Article excerpt


Professor Ahmed Abdullah Faddam, professor of Sculpture at Baghdad's College of Fine Arts, asserted the importance of culture and stated the following: "What can you do with a man who is ignorant and doesn't have any culture? He is just like a dead man."1 Professor John Malcolm Russell, professor of Art History at the Massachusetts College of Art, articulated the implications of this "dead man" as follows:

He is also a very dangerous man, this empty vessel waiting to be filled with dross. Having a past, having a sense of who we are, allows us to measure ourselves against what political demagogues or market forces say we should be. These are the ones with no use for the past. That's why they burn books, either literally as in Nazi bonfires or figuratively in the blinding glow of the television screen. Without a sense of our past as the core of who we are, we risk being whatever we're told we are.2

The key to preventing a world of empty vessels is the archaeological process and the study of items of the past.3 The skeletons of previous civilizations, the antiquities and artifacts found during archaeological excavations, are testimonies of history and culture.4 These objects connect the past with the present.5 Without these objects, mankind is devoid of history and culture, and thus risks becoming a "dead man."6

With over ten thousand officially registered archaeological sites7 and an unknown amount of sites yet to be discovered,8 Iraq is a nation with rich archaeological inheritance. Its inheritance is significant not only in quantity but also in quality.9 Many commonly perceive Iraq as the "Cradle of Civilization"10 and home to "the obligatory list of 'firsts' (the first cities, the first monumental architecture, the first writing . . . )."n Iraq has great potential to give meaning to the history and culture of mankind.12

This potential is at risk amidst the turmoil in Iraq.13 Looters unlawfully extract and steal artifacts from Iraq's archaeological sites and sell them on an illegitimate market.14 The looters are motivated by the opportunity for quick cash15 and "value the past solely as a source of collectible commodities."16 They undervalue history and culture, disrupt the archaeological process, and put society at risk of becoming empty vessels.17

This Note addresses the current nation-wide looting of Iraq's numerous archaeological sites and the domestic legislative steps to be taken in response to the recent upsurge in looting. Current laws prohibit unauthorized export of antiquities and vest ownership of all antiquities in the Iraqi government.18 The long-term effects of these laws on the illicit antiquities market and the looting of archaeological sites are limited.19 Part II of this Note discusses the antiquities market, the looting to supply the market, and current legislative attempts at controlling the market. It begins with an overview of the international antiquities market and then highlights Iraq's significant role in the market due to the quantity and quality of its antiquities. Subsequently, Part II addresses the evolution of looting from a custom of war and colonialism to the source of supply for the illicit antiquities market. Today, economic strife and political unrest exacerbate the profit-driven looting market.20 These effects can specifically be seen in the current socio-political state of Iraq.21 Part II further discusses domestic legislative attempts to control the market and reduce looting. It illustrates the global public interest in structuring effective regulations and distinguishes the two contrasting theories that underpin culturalproperty laws: cultural internationalism and cultural nationalism. Cultural internationalism promotes international ownership of antiquities and upholds the international value of antiquities.22 In contrast, cultural nationalism protects national ownership of antiquities and the values associated with national ownership. …


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