Robert Fisk +Amy Goodman | 30.04.2003 14:42
The original interview can be heard on
He talks about his experiences in Iraq and describes the looting of the museums - he speaks about the deliberate destruction of Iraq's cultural identity.
Goodman: After spending a month in Iraq, could you describe your thoughts?
Fisk: Well, my assumption is that history has a way or repeating itself. I was talking to a very military Shiite Muslim from Nashas about only five days ago and a journalist was saying to him "do you realize how historic these days are?" and I said to him "do you realize how history is repeating itself?" and he turned to me and said "yes history is repeating itself, and I knew what he meant. He was referring to the British invasion or Iraq in 1917 and Lt. Gen. Sir Stanley Maude, when we turned up in Baghdad and Sir Stanley Maude issued a document saying "we have come here not as conquerors but as liberators to free you from generations of tyranny." And within three years we were losing hundreds of men every year in the guerilla war against the Iraqis who wanted real liberation not by us from the ottomans but by them from us and I think that's what's going to happen with the Americans in Iraq. I think a war of liberation will begin quite soon, which of course will be first referred to as a war by terrorists, by al Qaeda, by remnants of Saddam's regime, remnants (remember that word) but it will be waged particularly by Shiite Muslims against the Americans and the British to get us out of Iraq and that will happen. And our dreams that we can liberate these people will not be fulfilled in this scenario.
So what I've been writing about these past few days is simply the following. We claim that we want to preserve the national heritage of the Iraqi people, and yet my own count of government buildings burning in Baghdad before I left was 158, of which the only buildings protected by the United States army and the marines were the Ministry of Interior, which has the intelligence corp of Iraq and the Ministry of Oil, and I needn't say anything else about that. Every other ministry was burning. Even the Ministry of Higher Education/Computer Science was burning. And in some cases American marines were sitting on the wall next to the ministries watching them burn.
The Computer Science Minister actually talked to the marine, Corporal Tinaha, in fact, I actually called his fiance to tell her he was safe and well. So the Americans have allowed the entire core and infrastructure of the next government of Iraq to be destroyed, keeping only the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Oil. That tells it's own story. On top of that I was one of the first journalists to walk in to the National Archaeological Museum and the National Library of Archives with all the Ottoman and state archives and the Koranic Library of the Ministry of Religious Endowment and all were burned. Petrol was poured on these documentations and they were all burned in 3000 degrees of heat.
Ironically, with all that irony, I managed to rescue 26 pages of the Ottoman documentation, the Ottoman library. Documents of Ottoman armies, camel thieves, letters from the sheriff Hussein of Mecca to Ali Pasha (Ottoman ruler of Baghdad) and when I got to the Jordanian border the Jordanian customs authorities stole these documents from me and refused to even give me a receipt for them, a shattering comment I'm afraid to say on the Arab world but particularly on the American occupation of Baghdad.
After the Koranic Library was set on fire I raced to the headquarters of the Third Marine Force Division in Baghdad and I said there is this massive Koranic Library on fire and I said what can you do? And under the Geneva Conventions the US Occupation Forces have a moral, whatever occupations forces there are, and they happen to be American, have a legal duty to protect documents and various embassies. There was a young officer who got on the radio and said "there was some kind of Biblical library on fire," biblical for heavens sake, and I gave him a map of the exact locations, the collaterals on the locations to the marines and nobody went there, and all the Korans were burned, Korans going back to the 16th Century totally burned.
So, somebody has an interest in destroying the center of a new government and the cultural identity of Iraq. Now the American line is these are Saddamite remnants, remnants of a Saddam regime. I don't believe this. If I was a remnant of a Saddam regime and say I was given $20,000 to destroy the library I would say thank you very much and when the regime was gone I would pocket the money. I wouldn't go and destroy the library, I don't need to, I've got the money. Somebody or some institution or some organization today now is actively setting out to destroy the cultural identity of Iraq and the ministries that form the core of a new Iraq government. Who would be behind that and who would permit it to happen, and why is it that the US military, so famed for its ability to fight its way across the Tigris and the Euphrates river and come into Baghdad will not act under the Geneva Convention to protect these institutions? That is the question. And I do not have the answer to it.
Goodman: There was a report today that said that the US army ignored warnings from its own civilian advisors that could have prevented the looting of Baghdad's National Museum-- this is from the London Observer. It said that the Office of the Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance set up to supervise reconstruction identified the museum as a prime target for looters in a memo to army commanders a month ago. The memo said it should be the second priority for the army after securing the national bank. General Jay Garner, who's taking over, is said to be livid. One angry reconstruction official told the Observer "we ask for just a few soldiers at each building or if they feared snipers then at least one or two tanks. The tanks were doing nothing once they got inside the city, yet the generals refused to deploy them.
Fisk: Yeah, well ...
(the interview is quite long you have to visit the website if you want to read the full transcript)
Robert Fisk +Amy Goodman