Iraq National Library Looted, Destroyed

Iraq National Library Looted, Destroyed

The National Library of Iraq and its irreplaceable holdings were destroyed in the rampant looting and arson that followed the arrival of American troops in Baghdad. The National Museum was also heavily damaged and much of its contents stolen.

The New York Times reported April 14 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 countrys 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.”

The library “contained a lot of early Arabic printed books, which are very scarce and very fragile,” Geoffrey Roper, head of the Islamic Bibliography Unit at Cambridge University in the U.K., said in the April 16 London Independent. “Weve also lost material from the library of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, which contained rare early legal and literary materials, priceless Korans, calligraphy and illumination—the kind of thing that appeared in international exhibitions in the past,” he said.

Eyewitness Robert Fisk described the scene in the April 15 Independent: “First came the looters, then came the arsonists. It was the final chapter in the sack 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 The National Library and Archives, a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents including the old royal archives of Iraq were turned to ashes in 3,000 degrees of heat . . . and the Americans did nothing.”

The Associated Press reported April 12 that the library of Mosul University, with its rare manuscripts, was also sacked “despite appeals blared from mosque minarets to stop destroying the city,” according to the Arab television network Al-Jazeera. Mosul fell into U.S. and Kurdish hands April 11.

“The burning of the library and the National Museum has ignited passions against American troops for their failure to intervene,” the Times said, and numerous cultural organizations, including the American Library Association, have issued statements deploring the losses.

Posted April 21, 2003.