UNESCO Assessment Calls for Immediate Security of Iraq Libraries

UNESCO Assessment Calls for Immediate Security of Iraq Libraries

Library and archival collections in Iraq need to be secured, guarded, and rebuilt, says a report recently released by Jean-Marie Arnoult, the French librarian who was part of a second UNESCO expert mission June 27–July 6 to assess the destruction of Iraqi cultural heritage.

Reviewing the report with other librarians at the recent conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, Arnoult said he had seen destruction of buildings and collections on a massive scale, and protecting them clearly “was not a first priority” of the occupying American-led forces.

Among the observations in his report: The National Library and Archives building is damaged beyond repair but only about 30% of the library collection was lost; 700,000 books remain in the building and another 500,000 are stored in a basement at the board of tourism in Baghdad and in a mosque in the suburb of al-Thawra. About 50 bags of archival material were moved to the same mosque. The public library in Basra was completely burned down, but the Basra University library sustained collection losses of 75%, and the building can be restored. In Mosul, the public library was only partly damaged and needs to be secured; the Mosul University library sustained losses of about 30%. The Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Awqaf Library in Baghdad lost about 90% of its books and perhaps up to 40% of its manuscripts; an inventory of surviving materials is planned.

Arnoult also took part in an August 1–2 meeting in Tokyo, where experts from nine countries, including Iraq and the United States, issued a set of recommendations, among them: that security and patrolling be reinforced at historic buildings, cultural institutions, and archaeological sites; that a thorough needs assessment be carried out; that UNESCO establish an International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of the Cultural Heritage of Iraq “under the auspices of the future government of Iraq and UNESCO”; and that the U.S. be urged to ratify the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, “in the spirit of United Nations Security Council resolution 1483 (article 7).”

Posted September 1, 2003.