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War on Iraq: The Destruction of Iraq's History and Culture

By ROBERT FISK

The Independent, Baghdad, Apr. 15, 2003



"So yesterday was the burning of books. First came the looters, then the arsonists. It was the final chapter in the sacking of Baghdad. The National Library and Archives a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents, including the old royal archives of Iraq were turned to ashes in 3,000 degrees of heat. Then the library of Korans at the Ministry of Religious Endowment was set ablaze. . . . And the Americans did nothing. . . . [F]or Iraq, this is Year Zero; with the destruction of the antiquities in the Museum of Archaeology on Saturday and the burning of the National Archives and then the Koranic library, the cultural identity of Iraq is being erased. Why? Who set these fires? For what insane purpose is this heritage being destroyed?"
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"When I caught sight of the Koranic library burning - flames 100 feet high were bursting from the windows - I raced to the offices of the occupying power, the U.S. Marines' Civil Affairs Bureau. An officer shouted to a colleague that 'this guy says some biblical [sic] library is on fire.' I gave the map location, the precise name - in Arabic and English. I said the smoke could be seen from three miles away and it would take only five minutes to drive there. Half an hour later, there wasn't an American at the scene - and the flames were shooting 200 feet into the air. There was a time when the Arabs said that their books were written in Cairo, printed in Beirut and read in Baghdad. Now they burn libraries in Baghdad."
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"But the older files and archives were on the upper floors of the library where petrol must have been used to set fire so expertly to the building. The heat was such that the marble flooring had buckled upwards and the concrete stairs that I climbedhad been cracked."
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"King Faisal of the Hejaz, the ruler of Mecca, whose staff are the authors of many of the letters I saved, was later deposed by the Saudis. His son Faisel became king of Iraq - Winston Churchill gave him Baghdad after the French threw him out of Damascus - and his brother Abdullah became the first king of Jordan, the father of King Hussein and the grandfather of the present-day Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah II. For almost a thousand years, Baghdad was the cultural capital of the Arab world, the most literate population in the Middle East. Genghis Khan's grandson burnt the city in the 13th century and, so it was said, the Tigris river ran black with the ink of books. Yesterday, the black ashes of thousands of ancient documents filled the skies of Iraq. Why?"
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