Terror Has Not with Drawn: Daily Life for Librarians in Iraq

Article excerpt

The American military formally ended its mission in Iraq on December 15, 2011. It was the inauspicious end of an invasion launched by the United States ostensibly to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, which were subsequently determined to be nonexistent. The war cost the lives of 4,287 service members, with another 30,182 wounded or maimed in action. Tens of thousands of Iraqis died in the conflict, although there are no firm civilian numbers available. US involvement has ended, but the war is far from over.

Located across the road from the main headquarters of the Iraqi army, the Iraq National Library and Archives and its 490 employees have been particularly vulnerable to insurgent attacks, which have increased steadily in 2012. June was the deadliest month, with some 200 people, mostly civilian pilgrims, reported killed, according to the September 14 New York Times.

"The continuous terrorist attacks often result in snarled traffic and even blocking the main road that leads to the National Library," said Eskander. "These attacks also affect the lives of some of my staff ... their sons, brothers, or sisters have been injured. The army headquarters was attacked twice viciously by terrorists in 2011. We were trapped, unable to evacuate our building for more than four hours." According to Eskander, other institutions near the library were also attacked this year, such as the Shiite religious foundation's headquarters, where 25 people were killed June 4.

As a result of these nearby attacks, the library has sut-fered some material damage--ceilings, windows, and doors were smashed. "Luckily, no one on my staff was harmed," said Eskander. "From time to time, I receive intelligence reports that ask us to be vigilant, as the library might be attacked by car bombs."

Iraqis face an acute political crisis, making it impossible to predict the impact on libraries and education in that nation. "Ethnic, religious, and even regional divisions have increased considerably since the withdrawal of US forces," said Eskander. "Unfortunately, our political leaders have been busy mobilizing their communities against one another. A new civil war is around the corner if the different parties do not agree on a compromise that will satisfy a minimum of their demands."

Eskander maintains that the library is the only national institution that is "always willing to assist, unconditionally, other educational or cultural organizations. We have built a good reputation throughout Iraq. We have representatives in every province whose task is to work closely with provincial cultural and educational institutions."

Outside help?

Government officials made a bold announcement in April through Mawtani.com (a website "sponsored by the US Central Command in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1723") that 21 new Iraqi government-sponsored libraries are planned throughout the provinces "to provide free services to students and researchers and seek to explain and promote the concept of the new democratic system in Iraq." The optimistic announcement said that 22 billion dinars ($18.9 minion US) had been allocated for the buildings and that double that number are planned for 2013. Unfortunately, American Libraries was unable to verify this report or confirm this project through its sources.

Mary-Jane Deeb, chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress, said that librarians from Iraq came to LC for training in 2006 once the World Digital Library Project was established. This was one of the most important contributions the Library of Congress made to the war recovery effort in Iraq. "They started working on projects that Saad Eskander and I had discussed," said Deeb, "one of which was digitizing the first woman's journal ever published in Iraq, Layla, 1923 to 1925. It's unique and now available online at wdl.org."

Google contributed $3 million to the development of the World Digital Library, Deeb noted, and that money was used to digitize newspapers and journals. …