Trail of the Unexpected: a museum for weapons of mass destruction?
Saturday 19 April 2003
A German traveller I met in North Korea last year commented that he hoped to get to Iraq soon "because if the Americans get in it will really be ruined". The looting of the National Museum in Baghdad clearly confirmed his prediction.
Unfortunately it isn't just ancient history which has been disappearing. The Americans have been vandalising just as much as the Iraqis. Watching the Saddam Hussein statue fall in Firdos Square – helped by a contingent of marines including a Sergeant David Sutherland, who chained the statue to an armoured recovery vehicle – is a reminder that the Hungarians cannily kept dozens of their unwanted statues of Marx, Lenin and other Communist-era heroes and collected them together in the Statue Park just outside Budapest. The collection attracts 40,000 visitors a year who happily pay £1.70 to see them.
On Thursday, 10 April, American soldiers, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Rich Schwartz, also demolished the famed mosaic portrait of George Bush senior, which visitors to the Rashid Hotel walked over as they entered the lobby. A collection of Saddam Hussein statues and portraits of Mr Bush senior could have made a useful starting point for a museum of recent Iraqi history, along with a big exhibit of the Weapons of Mass Destruction, which will surely be located soon.
The museum souvenir shop would probably do a good trade in T-shirts bearing the smiling face of the Iraqi Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, with a voice balloon saying, "Tanks? I see no tanks".
Still, the Iraqis would know a thing or two about looting museums. Before exiting Kuwait at the end of the 1991 Gulf War they looted the National Museum, then smashed and burned the building for good measure. It's the one building in Kuwait that remains unrestored.
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