Destruction of Iraq’s Cultural Heritage


The ninth century Mosque of Samarra was damaged during 2005 fighting in Iraq. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
The ninth century Mosque of Samarra was damaged during 2005 fighting in Iraq.
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, much of Iraq’s cultural heritage has been destroyed: One million books, ten million other documents and 14,000 archaeological artifacts have been lost.

U.S. military planners usually try to prevent the destruction of cultural heritage sites and artifacts, but they did not do this during the second invasion of Iraq. While museum officials in Baghdad hid some precious objects before the invasion, many were still stolen or destroyed. In 2003, the U.S. military built a base on top of the site of the 5,000-year-old Mesopotamian city of Babylon. Buildings that were damaged or destroyed include ancient Babylonian structures, the ninth century Mosque of Samarra and 4,500-year-old Sumerian temples. This is a violation of the Hague Conventions, which states that the cultural heritage of a country must be protected.

Many of the artifacts are sold illegally. Some of them are being plundered by the invading armies. “U.S. and Turkish soldiers are still stealing treasures today and selling them across the borders with Jordan and Kuwait, where art merchants pay up to $57,000 for a Sumerian tablet,” said writer Fernando Báez.

The extremist Islamic State (ISIS) is also contributing to the destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage. ISIS claims that certain ancient structures, artifacts and documents violate their religious beliefs, so they have been selling them to finance their military campaign or destroying them altogether.

Iraqi-born archaeologist Lamia Al Gailani Werr told The National, “The destruction is so bad, it will be impossible to restore them. This is catastrophic to Iraq’s heritage.”

Hague Conventions – a collection of treaties and declarations agreed on in 1899 and 1907 that included international laws about war and war crimes

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