Iraq National Library Looted, Burned. (News Fronts International)

American Libraries, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Iraq National Library Looted, Burned. (News Fronts International)


Reports from Baghdad indicate that the National Library of Iraq and its irreplaceable holdings were destroyed in the rampant looting and arson that followed the arrival of American troops.

"It's a really distressing situation to see," said National Public Radio's Jackie Northam, reporting from the Iraqi capital April 14. "They've taken antiquities, they've pillaged libraries, they've done just about everything." The National Museum has also been emptied and destroyed.

The New York Times reported the same day that "virtually nothing was left of the library and its tens of thousands of old manuscripts and books, and of archives like Iraqi newspapers tracing the country's turbulent history from the era of Ottoman rule through Mr. Hussein. Reading rooms and the stacks where the collections were stored were reduced to smoking vistas of blackened rubble."

Established in 1920 and relocated in 1976 to a new and modern building in the center of Baghdad, a city of 4.5 million people, the library was considered one of the primary repositories of Iraqi civilization, which dates back at least 7,000 years.

"The burning of the library and the National Museum has ignited passions against American troops for their failure to intervene," the Times said. Protesters gathered outside the Palestine Hotel and shouted at U.S. Marines that having many of the city's principal institutions destroyed is too high a price for freedom.

Princeton-educated political scientist Gailan Ramiz of Baghdad University told the Times, "I believe the United States has committed an act of irresponsibility with few parallels in history, with the looting of the National Museum, the National Library, and so many of the ministries. People are saying that the U.S. wanted this--that it allowed all this to happen because it wanted the symbolism of ordinary Iraqis attacking every last token of Saddam Hussein's power. …

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