April 15, 2003

ROBERT SCHWARTZ wonders if the museum-looting reports aren't missing something important:

So, lets think about this. The Museum, full of priceless antiquities, is located in a country run by a ruthless tyrant who has treated the country and its treasures as his personal playthings. It has been closed to the public for years. War has been threatened for months, and the tyrant knows that the city will be bombed, so does the museum staff. Rumors abound that the tyrant, his henchmen and their families are stashing treasure in foreign countries against the possibility of flight. When the army of liberation arrives, the Museum is empty, its displays and vaults ransacked. The staff blames an anonymous mob of civilians. . . . Motive, Means, Opportunity; isnít that what Miss Marple would wonder about? The tyrant would certainly have them in spades.

I think he's onto something, as this report from Kanan Makiya seems to fit nicely with Schwartz's theory:

I spoke by sat-phone with friends in Baghdad. According to them, the breakdown of authority familiar to the world is getting better. Citizens groups are forming to keep order in the streets, and meeting little preliminary resistance. People want to be safe, and now that the ministries have been ransacked, it appears the worst of the looting has passed. In Basra, too, I understand these same groups are forming. One friend told me that the looting of the National Museum--something that cut deeply into me--was the work of newly deposed Baathist officials, who had been selling off our patrimony as they saw their days were numbered. As the regime fell, these (ex-)Baathists went back for one last swindle, and took with them treasures that dated back 9,000 years, to the Sumerians and the Babylonians.

(Emphasis added.) So how come the ever-so-inquisitive Big Media folks in Baghdad didn't even mention the possibility that something like this was going on in their reports? Perhaps CENTCOM should check their luggage as they leave town. . . .

UPDATE: Porphyrogenitus had speculated on this on Sunday, and links to this AP story that quotes one Iraqi to the effect that it may have been an inside job. Why hasn't this gotten more attention?