Staff revolt at Baghdad museum (The Guardian via IraqCrisis and Francis Deblauwe)
Rory McCarthy in Baghdad
Tuesday June 17, 2003
Empty shelves in Baghdad museum
Iraq's national museum, home to many priceless artefacts which were thought to have been looted after the fall of Baghdad, has been plunged into a new crisis because of a revolt by staff.
More than 130 of the 185 staff of Iraq's state board of antiquities office in Baghdad, which runs the museum, have signed a petition demanding the resignation of its directors.
Staff said they believed that some of the thefts from the museum were an inside job. They also accused Dony George, the board's head of research, of arming them and ordering them to fight US forces.
Mr George admitted to the Guardian that he armed staff but denied instructing them to shoot US troops. He said none of the directors had a hand in the looting.
The row came after weeks of confusion about the artefacts apparently stolen from the museum under the gaze of US troops. At first Mr George and other directors accused the US military of failing to protect the building. But in the past two weeks many of the most precious pieces, including the golden treasures of Nimrud and the Sumerian vase of Warka have been returned.
One employee said: "We want elections for new directors and we want an investigation into what happened at the museum."
Staff also described how Mr George gathered employees in the museum for a meeting in the early days of the war at which he ordered them to fight US troops or face the sack. One employee who was present at the meeting said: "He [Mr George] said: 'If the Americans come you have to fight.' They never mentioned thieves once."
Mr George, who has worked for the board for 26 years and is known internationally, admitted he had been at the meeting and that guns were distributed but said he told staff only to guard the museum against looters.
He said he had been a member of the Ba'ath party, but not a senior one. Refusal to join, he said, would have meant "troubles in my position here [at the museum] and at home".
A spokesperson for the US-led coalition provisional authority (CPA), which is running Iraq, said Mr George's Ba'ath party membership had been investigated and he had been cleared. "All other allegations are just hearsay," the spokesperson said. Elections have been organised by the CPA in the ministry of culture, which oversees the museum, to choose new directors. But staff from the antiquities board are unlikely to take part. "It is not the way it works," the spokesperson said.
Also, regular readers might want to recheck the end of Saturday's post, "When Scholars Cry Wolf," which has been updated to interact with those who have commented on it.
Memo to future self: always compose entries on Word, then transfer to Blogger, in case the Blogger posting function eats them!