Thursday, February 26, 2009

Finally, Policing Assistance For Iraq's Archaeological Sites -- On the Way, At Least

Obscured by the controversy over the photo op "reopening" of the Iraq Museum is something much more significant: the announcement by the Italian Ministry of Culture that Italy will help Iraq create a new police unit, modeled on Italy's crack carabinieri units, to fight the trafficking of stolen works. The Italians had been in Iraq during the first few years of the post-war period, and the area for which they were responsible was far better protected than others, remaining so even after they withdrew following an attack that killed several carabinieri.

While other forms of assistance such as site conservation and management, museum administration, and archaeological training, are of course valuable, without site policing and anti-looting efforts there will be far fewer sites to conserve, artifacts to catalogue, archaeological digs to conduct. Policing efforts should be a top priority for nations or NGOs hoping to assist Iraq in preserving its past, and it is deeply heartening to see that the Italians are again offering such assistance after a hiatus.

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