Thursday, April 30, 2015

The United States Should Protect Mankind's Heritage in Iraq

IS destruction of winged bull in Mosul Museum
Guest Contributor, Jabbar Jaafar, is a Strategic Communications Specialist and Cultural Activist at Voices of Iraq and co-founder of Savings Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE).  He is one of the few scholar-activists focusing on the destruction of Iraq's civilizational heritage - a heritage not only previous to Iraq but to the entire world.

Despite having the most advanced technology and a huge reserve of all kinds of weapons such as fighter aircraft and drones, the United States and its allies have failed to prevent the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group from destroying and bulldozing irreplaceable archeological sites in Mosul, Iraq.   

These sites include the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Nimrud and Hatra.  IS has mocked the world's super power and its allies by destroying the treasured statues and artifacts of ancient Mesopotamian civilizations before their very eyes.  Surprisingly, there was no reaction to these savage acts. 

After the catastrophe took place, US Army General Marten Dempsey, the top U.S military officer in Iraq, declared that the protection of these archeological sites was not on the United States' list of priorities. How can the United States build and promote a strategic relationship with the people of the Middle East region where its vital interests lie if it fails to prevent the IS from destroying this heritage which is an integral part of the lives of the people of Iraq and the rest of the world.

This is the third time top US generals have lost the trust of the Iraqi people. The first time was when coalition forces led by the United States refused to oust Saddam Husayn from power in early 1991.  The second was when American forces entered Baghdad and toppled Saddam's regime in 2003. However, as we all recall, it offered protection only for the Ministry of Oil and the Republican Palace that contained Iraq's Ministry of Defense.  

Other government organizations were not protected.  These included financial institutions, Iraq's  National Library, where thousands of invaluable books and manuscripts were set on fire, Iraq's national museum which was subjected to burglary, with thousands of irreplaceable artifacts and relics looted and smuggled outside the country.  All this happened before the eyes of the US army which had occupied Baghdad in 2003.  When the US occupation authorities were asked why they let this happen, they said, "The protection of the cultural establishments is not on the list of our priorities."

IS terrorists destroy a Sufi shrine in July 2014
This carelessness and indifference on the part of the United States led to the notions and allegations rumored in 2003 by Saddam's loyalists and fundamentalists that America occupied Iraq wit the sole purpose of stealing its oil along with other wealth.  The United States, these rumors asserted, was serving its own interests in a unilateral manner. This thought caused many ordinary Sunni and Shiite Iraqis to resist the occupation forces which led to more than 4000 casualties for the US forces in the aftermath of the war. 

Unfortunately, the same thing is happening in 2015.  History is repeating itself.  The US led coalition has done nothing to protect the irreplaceable archeological sites in Iraq.  This unjustifiable lack of action has caused those who question the American role in Iraq to repeat the same warning.  Iraq's relationship with the world's super power is not as highly regarded as the US' relationship with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is argued.  These latter two countries have relationships of respect with the United States built on common interests. 

Hence, U.S military officials do not make Iraqis feel that Iraq is America's permanent strategic ally, especially during this critically difficult time when their nation's irreplaceable civilization and heritage is being destroyed by the terrorist group - the IS.  The United States needs to prove that the relationship between the two countries is strategic and will never be influenced or shaken under any circumstances, regardless of the confusing stand of the former Iraqi government towards this issue.  

The destruction in Mosul does not serve the national interests of the United States in Iraq.  An Iraqi military analyst has warned that the relationship between the US and Iraqi is at a crossroad.
Therefore, effective action by the United States to help Iraqis in this troubled time to save their remaining ancient heritage in Nineveh, which is the heart of humanity and its earliest history, will help promote trust between Iraqis and America as friends and strategic allies.  If American politicians forget the crucial support that Iraq requires in saving its heritage, the Iraqi people will never forget those who failed to stand with them in their time of need!