Spartans look to lend a hand to National Museum of Iraq
November 15, 2007
BAGHDAD - When what was supposed to be simply a short meeting turned into a grand tour of the National Museum of Iraq, some 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers got to see a part of early civilization that was beyond their imagination ... in some cases, artifacts which dated back to more than 5,000 years ago.
Lt. Col. Kenneth Crawford, commander of 2nd "Spartan" Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and Diane Siebrandt, a U.S. State Department culture heritage liaison officer, set up the "monumental" meeting with Dr. Amira, the museum's newly-appointed general director, Oct. 31.
"What we did was huge," said Siebrandt who works closely with Iraq's Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities.
After a meeting with Dr. Amira and her other director generals, Crawford and a few lucky Soldiers from his personal security detail received the first tour of the museum and its exhibits since the early part of the war. The doors were closed to visitors April 23, 2003.
"I was in awe on what I saw in there," said Crawford, a San Antonio native. "I don't know -- in my life - aside from the Ishtar Gate in Berlin, which was the oldest thing I've seen - this was even more special. You come here, and you're in the cradle of society."
During the Ottoman Empire, archeologists and fortune finders were granted digging permits and were able to keep any find. According to Siebrandt, it was during that time when most of the Mesopotamia artifacts left the country. After World War I, and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it was a British traveler, Gertrude Bell, who started supervising many of the excavation sites and brought to light the importance of having a sense of cultural awareness. The museum, which was originally opened in the early 1900's by Bell, was known then as The Baghdad Archaeological Museum. Many of the exhibits contain artifacts once belonging to her private collection.
The museum was open to the general public until 2003, when looters and vandals used the war to steal many priceless items, according to Siebrandt. Since then, the museum and its staff have closed its doors to almost everyone. So, the meeting and subsequent tour of the exhibits currently under construction was a surprising treat for the few who were able to see it.
Since December 2006, the State Department and Coalition Forces tried to start the dialog that might start the process of reopening the museum to the Iraqi people.
"We just were never able to get dialog started," said Siebrandt. "With Doctor Amira, I met with her and talked about [Lt.] Colonel Crawford (coming to the museum). It was all about getting the right person in."
For Crawford, whose unit does a lot of civic projects throughout the Karkh Security District, getting to help the museum reopen to the public is important.
"It's an icon ... not just for Karkh or Baghdad, but for Iraq," Crawford said. "This showed a big step toward joint relations. It was nice to just get our foot in the door to ID areas of the facility we can maybe help with - the end state of getting the museum open to the public."
Crawford said that there is a "plethora" of things his battalion could do to maybe help with reopening efforts. During his time in the museum, Amira and her staff addressed issues such as the water damage caused by water leaks, security, dedicated power source, and some others he and Amira planned to discuss in future meetings.