Sunday, May 03, 2009

Archaeologists Ignored Again as Babylon Re-Opens after US Turnover

The NY Times has an interesting article about the reopening of Babylon to tourist visitors. The writer makes clear that Iraq's archaeological heritage is no longer controlled by the professional archaeologists in the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, but by the Ministry of Tourism and Prime Minister Maliki, and that any concerns about the security of sites, whether from looting or development, are being superseded by the desire for tourist dollars and the wish to present a bella figura to the world.


The State Department will of course say that this is a purely internal matter for the sovereign government of Iraq to determine for itself. But as the article makes clear along the way, the Iraqi government would not be in control of the sites if the US had not agreed to turn over that control as part of the Status of Forces agreement reached with the Iraqi government. 


Here are the relevant clauses from the agreement:


5.  Upon the discovery of any historical or cultural site or finding any strategic resource in agreed facilities and areas, all works of construction, upgrading, or modification shall cease immediately and the Iraqi representatives at the Joint Committee shall be notified to determine appropriate steps in that regard.  

 6.  The United States shall return agreed facilities and areas and any non-relocatable structures and assemblies on them that it had built, installed, or established during the term of this Agreement, according to mechanisms and priorities set forth by the Joint Committee.  Such facilities and areas shall be handed over to the Government of Iraq free of any debts and financial burdens.  

 7.  The United States Forces shall return to the Government of Iraq the agreed facilities and areas that have heritage, moral, and political significance and any non-relocatable structures and assemblies on them that it had built, installed, or established, according to mechanisms, priorities, and a time period as mutually agreed by the Joint Committee, free of any debts or financial burdens.   

That the Iraqi government should wish to reassume responsibility for its country's heritage is both completely understandable and honorable, and that the US should be willing to turn them over is perfectly fine.  In fact, given the pathetic record of the military and the State Department in protecting Iraq’s archaeological sites, they may well be in better hands now, even if the government is disregarding the concerns of its own archaeologists. It is a shame, though, that the SOFA did not also include some provisions for assistance to the Iraq government for protecting sites. It would be interesting to know what kinds of conversations took place about this issue. The author of the Times piece suggests that it was at the insistence of the Iraqis that the sites were turned over. But what did we say? Were we surprised? Were there any negotiations about the issue?

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