Stuff Happens

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Title: Stuff Happens Colonialism, Archaeology, and National Identity Formation
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Lobdell, Faith
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2012
Publication Date: 2012


Subjects / Keywords: Colonialism
National Identity
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theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: When the United States and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003, there was a great deal of looting and damage to Iraq's cultural heritage. This caused a great deal of controversy and international condemnation of the failure of pre-war planning agencies and committees to take the possibility of such negative consequences into account. My thesis explores some of the history of the use of archaeology for political purposes, both colonial and national, in attempting to answer the dual questions of why the preservation of cultural heritage is an important issue and for whom.
Statement of Responsibility: by Faith Lobdell
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2012
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Mink, Joseph

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Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2012 L79
System ID: NCFE004620:00001

Permanent Link:

Material Information

Title: Stuff Happens Colonialism, Archaeology, and National Identity Formation
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Lobdell, Faith
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2012
Publication Date: 2012


Subjects / Keywords: Colonialism
National Identity
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: When the United States and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003, there was a great deal of looting and damage to Iraq's cultural heritage. This caused a great deal of controversy and international condemnation of the failure of pre-war planning agencies and committees to take the possibility of such negative consequences into account. My thesis explores some of the history of the use of archaeology for political purposes, both colonial and national, in attempting to answer the dual questions of why the preservation of cultural heritage is an important issue and for whom.
Statement of Responsibility: by Faith Lobdell
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2012
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Mink, Joseph

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2012 L79
System ID: NCFE004620:00001

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STUFF HAPPENS: COLONIALISM, ARCHAEOLOGY, AND NATIONAL IDENTITY FORMATION BY FAITH LOBDELL A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Joseph Mink Sarasota, Florida March 19, 2012


This thesis is dedicated to Uzi Baram and Joseph Mink for the knowledge they imparted, guidance they gave, and time they invested, and to Verra. ii


I would like to acknowledge my professors and fellow anthropology and political science students for their invaluable discussions both inside the classroom and out. Moreover, this thesis would have never been written without the encouragement and support of Dustin Krumm, Mitchell Gomez, Zaq Bencomo, Becca Ramsey, Derek Schwabe, Pete Villafana, Lisa Sherer, Eric Talman, Kelsey Paige Hunt Dolan, and Tracy Reynolds. My deepest thanks to all. iii


TABLE OF CONTENTS Dedication…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..ii Acknowledgments………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………iii Table of Contents…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….…iv Abstract……………….…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….v Chapter 1…………………….……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..1 Chapter 2………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….13 Chapter 3………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….44 Chapter 4………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….72 Appendix I.……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….89 Bibliography……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..96 Iv


STUFF HAPPENS: COLONIALISM, ARCHAEOLOGY, AND NATIONAL IDENTITY FORMATION Faith Lobdell New College of Florida, 2012 ABSTRACT When the United States and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003, there was a great deal of looting and damage to Iraq’s cultural heritage. This caused a great deal of controversy and international condemnation of the failure of pre war planning agencies and committees to take the possibility of such negative consequences into account. My thesis explores some of the history of the use of archaeology for political purposes, both colonial and national, in attempting to answer the dual questions of why the preservation of cultural heritage is an important issue and for whom. Joseph Mink Division of Social Sciences v


1 Chapter 1 Stuff Happens “All nation states require foundational myths that help create a sense of collective identity by explaining a society’s origins. These links to the past are necessary if citizens are to enjoy political stability and development. This sense of collective identity may trace its roots to many factors, including ethnicity, religion, or a successful revolution. Without this shared sense of identity, a society lacks a fundamental tool for defining the nature of the political community in which all its members live.” Eric Davis, Memories of State “It may be too late to save some of Iraq's cultural treasures and archaeological sites, but it is to be hoped that the example of Iraq will induce countries around the world to adopt and enforce the various conventions on cultural property. Iraq's cultural heritage is also part of mankind's cultural heritage, and to protect it is to protect our own interests.” International Foundation for Art Research In the year preceding the most recent invasion of Iraq by United States forces, the only voices calling for the protection of cultural heritage sites and artifacts were those of archaeologists and cultural heritage policymakers. Two of the most vociferous were McGuire Gibson of the Oriental Institute and Arthur Houghton, a former Foreign Service officer and ex curator of the Getty Museum who had been a member of the president’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee. The American Council on Cultural Policy (ACCP), of which Houghton is a member, began a letter writing campaign to the heads of the Defense and State departments as well as the National Security Advisor and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Among the organizations approached by the ACCP and asked to sign the letter was the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), which refused; however, two months later they released their own statement and sent it to the Pentagon. Unlike the ACCP, who focused mainly on potential damage by US forces, the message of the AIA included a call to the government to try to prevent looting of artifacts during as well as immediately after military operations.


2 Efforts of these individuals and organizations, as well as several others, to communicate with members of the government involved in the postwar planning effort were almost entirely unsuccessful. Even on the few occasions when contact was made and concerns about looting and destruction were raised, the only actual action taken was the establishment of a list of ‘no strike’ locations of cultural significance, such as the archaeological sites of Ninevah and Ur. Moreover, efforts by the US government to address this and other humanitarian issues that would affect the fate of cultural heritage in Iraq did not begin until January 2003 – a mere two and a half months before the invasion took place. Considering the inadequacy of time, resources, planning, and personnel, the looting of the Iraqi National Museum and many other archaeological sites is unsurprising but still devastating. The U.S. government’s response to criticisms of their lack of effort to protect Iraq’s cultural heritage has tended to express the insignificance of cultural heritage concerns when weighed against those of tactics and survival. Vice President Dick Cheney stated at an April 11, 2003 news conference, “Stuff happens!” and two days later, “Bad things happen in life, and people do loot.” Although his statement is technically correct, the fact remains that under international law such as the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict the government was responsible for both military planning and cultural heritage protection. Why is cultural heritage politically significant and for whom should cultural heritage be protected? The relationship between archaeology and national identity is one that relatively recently has become a subject of academic discourse for political scientists,


3 anthropologists, historians, and many others. Constructing or redefining precisely what a nation is and who may claim citizenship in it often falls into the purview of the political officials in the government, who use it effectively as a method of social control for purposes as varied as gathering support for proposed policies, stirring patriotism during times of conflict, or less positive actions such as disenfranchising or justifying violence against a group of people. Governments often use certain aspects of cultural heritage in order to articulate a particular story that supports the specific national identity they are trying to promote. By controlling the past, the state acts to legitimate its present authority and gather support for its future objectives. “[National governments] grant excavation permits, which determine which archaeological sites – whose past – is valued by governments as important to the nation” (Cuno 2007: 14). Approval hinges on many factors, including which images and aspects of a nation’s history the government wishes portrayed, the perceived reasons for choosing the site, and the attitude of the petitioned government towards that of the archaeologist’s country and government. When the excavation commences, decisions about which findings – if any – get published are always the province of the national government in accordance (hopefully) with the country’s antiquities laws. The same is true of the artifacts excavated, all of which are legally the property of the country in which the dig took place. Once the objects are turned over to the appropriate institution – typically the antiquities department, however it is named – and then put into a museum’s collection, their fate at that point is in the hands of the museum curator. Whether or not they get exhibited and how the display is arranged have as much to do


4 with what kind of narrative is desired by the government as the quality and importance of the finds. “Objects, after all, do not inherently represent anyone. Claims to ownership depend on the practical entanglement of objects in a long history of cultural, political, scholarly, and, often, market practices that come to circumscribe them as heritage – as objects with a specific cultural historical significance as emblems of identity” (El Haj 2001:244). Moreover, scholarly work on these subjects has frequently focused on an effort to more fully understand the interactions of these cultural spheres and their impact on national identity. Control of cultural heritage is something sought after by governments for reasons other than historical and financial value; it is also extremely useful in presenting a carefully selected past in order to create a carefully selected present. “It is archaeology that has come to inhabit a prominent position of creating and institutionalizing conceptual spaces that participate in the historical legitimating of contemporary struggles for selfhood and political autonomy that have come to settle on the question of cultural identity.” (Weiss 2007:415). It is imperative for a government to do its best to convince the people it governs that its right to do so is legitimate, and one of the easiest ways to authenticate a regime is to create the perception of the historical justifications, real or perceived. “Archaeology is a politicized discipline, for the state needs the remote past to justify its authority and to exercise its rule” (Kohl, Kozelsy & Nachman 2007:2). Archaeology and its practice are intrinsically tied to particular physical locations as well as particular periods of time, and national identity likewise is spatially and temporally anchored; changes in one (whether consciously directed or not)


5 often precipitate changes in the other, and both are frequently tools for political purposes by governments and/or opposition movements. “Archaeology can only be practiced with the approval of the state. It – and the fruit of its labors – are indelibly part of the modern nation state’s political apparatus” (Cuno 2007:19). The implication is that in order to emphasize a particular culture and history, governments can use archaeology to attempt to influence the public’s notion of their national identity. This serves not only as a unifying force based on a common past, but also to justify the government’s present goals and future plans. Museums as institutions of archaeology reflect the nationalistic ideologies of the state, since they are exhibitions of a specific past and thus constitute the ‘official’ history intended for mass consumption by the present population. The findings of archaeology are the findings of history, the remnants of cultures whose inclusion or exclusion from a nation’s past is consciously or unconsciously the selection of governments and those educational institutions from whose auspices archaeologists emerge. “[H]istory and the nation converge in terms of the importance of historical consciousness for the existence of nationhood itself. Within this modern grammar of nationhood, being a nation means being the subject of history” (El Haj 2001:257). What precisely defines a cultural artefact as the possession of a specific culture, the particular remains and signs of its existence in the past? Ideally, that would be the province of the members of that culture (or their closest living descendants) – although cultural boundaries are inherently dynamic, subjective notions and therefore perhaps less than useful in anything other than an arbitrary dispensation of cultural authority


6 over an artefact; but all too often cultural boundaries are irrelevant to governments in light of national boundaries, however externally imposed. “The work of archaeology is understood to reflect and mediate larger sociopolitical interests, its results often harnessed for identifiable political ends” (El Haj 2001:9). This is a significant fact – archaeology as the excavation and exhibition of cultural remains is not nearly as important as archaeology as the practice of exposing, excavating and exhibiting the most desirable cultural elements of a national space for the purpose of instilling a culturohistorical nationalism in the selected population. “Cultural property is a political construct: it is whatever one sovereign authority claims it to be” (Cuno 2007:11). Archaeology has frequently been used as a tool to promote colonial agendas as well as nationalist purposes. “Public heritage spaces, museums and the like have a very specific historical genealogy, one that derives from a very particular set of colonial imperatives and bourgeois Victorian values…” (Weiss 2007:414) Inherent here is the notion of nationalism as a product of particular historicism as controlled by the state, specifically via heritage institutions such as museums. Weiss argues that archaeology is a means by which history and identity are constructed and reproduced. Often the only interactions a population in general has with the field are in displays and exhibits, which are frequently directed and controlled by government officials. When these are colonial administrators, the aspects of an area’s history are generally selected and arranged to assimilate smoothly into a particular story created by the colonizers for their own purposes, without any reference to the desired story or history of the current


7 indigenous cultures. This becomes especially prevalent during nation building in the postcolonial period. Lynn Meskell cites several examples of the relationship between colonialism and cultural heritage, including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, archaeology of the African diaspora, and museum representations of indigenous Mexican peoples. (2002:289). She states that “Identities are multiply constructed and revolve around a set of iterative practices that are always in process, despite their material and symbolic substrata” (2002:281). Arguing that it is impossible to extricate archaeology from the particular situations and perspectives that constitute its political environment, Meskell points out that it is common for governments to emphasize certain places, historical periods, and the remnants of some cultures to the exclusion of others as a way of constructing specific identities and perceptions of common history. This manifests in museum exhibits, whose spatial organization, the design of the various displays, and the determination of what artifacts are sufficiently “appropriate” or “significant” to warrant presentation. “New forms of colonialism and imperialism are now making advances, and Eurocentric ideologies and practises, in archaeology and elsewhere, are still dominant,” he argues, and calls for action by the WAC and by individual archaeologists to combat the ongoing problems these issues represent (2005:96). Ex colonies and territories, historically sectioned off rather arbitrarily into countries once they become independent, have faced serious obstacles in national identity formation. Newly created governments frequently facilitated the selection and exhibition of material evidence of a


8 particular history in attempts to transform the often diverse peoples residing within arbitrary boundaries as designated by European philosophical and political hegemony into a national collective. “It simply remains true that as long as the world is divided into neatly demarcated nation states, those states will continue to justify their existence by invoking their pasts – real or imagined” (Kohl, Kozelsy & Nachman 2007:3). By presenting selected elements of a culture or territory’s past, it is possible for a population’s shared notions of who and what they are in the present and will be in the future to be controlled politically with varying degrees of subtlety. In other words, national identity is in part the carefully constructed presentation of the state for its own purposes. “The types of historical and archaeological sequences, events, facts, and interpretations that are selected, taught, and memorized in cultural transmissions are of crucial importance. These transmissions indeed serve as boundary markers and set the context in which personal and collective identities are established” (2007:19). The sort of cultural arrogation historically associated with colonialism has been and continues to be prevalent in the attitudes and perspectives of European and American scholarship concerning Iraq and its heritage. “It is the nature of culture to be dynamic and ever changing. Yet national governments ignore this fact. They impose a national claim of distinction on culture, and they seek an ancient pedigree for that culture. They want to claim primacy as much as purity: ancient origins and uninterrupted identity. But this is only politics” (Cuno 2009:28). Cuno also argues, somewhat controversially, that national and international antiquities laws may purport to protect archaeological sites and artefacts but in fact are political creations that


9 support governmental attempts to construct specific identities and imply their right to govern a population. British archaeologist Dr. Yannis argues that the notion of a ‘world community’ has been invoked both as a way to bypass international governing institutions such as the United Nations and to justify imperial aims, insofar as colonizing nations lay claim to the history of the peoples they subjugate in order to substantiate claims of global representation and thus in possession of a global worldview. Hamilakis condemns archaeologists who allow the results of their works to be used for colonial and political purposes. Such cultural hijacking has quite an extended and (in)famous history, and although international legislation and negotiation have trended towards repatriation of the artifacts in the area from whence they came, many major museums’ exhibits are populated with objects acquired during colonial operations. “This politically charged symbolic geography of representation not only conceals its colonial origins, but it also embraces and advances neocolonialism, often in the name of universality and multiculturalism” (2005:97). He suggests that the best way to counter the appropriation of cultural knowledge by governments is to actively work towards spreading that same knowledge to the general public. Major international conferences take place every four years of the World Archaeological Congress (WAC), a non profit, non governmental organization whose purpose is to launch debates about and promulgate the plethora of ways archaeology intersects social and historical perceptions as well as the importance of contextualizing its practice politically. Their website states, “[A]rchaeology carries in it a source of


10 empowerment, not only in the generalized sense, as a means of knowledge production about the past, but more specifically as a means to grant time depth and legitimation to individuals, groups or nations.” The WAC seeks to encourage recognition of the multiplicity of perspectives and interpretations inherent in archaeological work, urges inclusion of these various facets in excavation, representation and analysis, and particularly to discover and expose practices and publications that espouse nocuous, exclusionary institutional or colonial conceptions to the detriment of disenfranchised peoples. In this thesis I will focus more specifically on Iraq in an attempt to analyze these ideas and make more explicit the relationship between archaeology, national identity, and the sorts of colonial projects undertaken by Europe and the United States in the last hundred years. Since the country’s founding in 1921, Iraqi national identity and what should constitute that identity has been a pressing issue for its political leaders. Although the specific definition of Iraqi ness has changed over time, archaeology has consistently been used by the government to emphasize whichever aspects of history best support their construction of that identity. Evidence from the past supports a particular vision of the present, politically created and implanted as the foundation of shared consciousness. “Iraq’s national identity, so closely tied to its multifaceted ancient history and its archaeological heritage, is flexible and incorporates many different features, depending on the political circumstances” (Bernhardsson 2007:202). In presenting my argument, I have divided my thesis into two chapters. The next chapter will draw upon Timothy Mitchell’s book Colonising Egypt in which he argues


11 that European colonial practices and perspectives reveal a particular – very Western – set of ideologies that essentialized and reified members of and artifacts from other cultures, turning them into objects for exhibition and spectacle. He presents an extensive discussion about the history of Western practices and institutions used by the British to impose a particular image on Egypt in the time period it was under their rule. He first analyzes the representation of Eastern nations in European writings and cultural depictions in the nineteenth century, pointing out the fundamentally Western ideologies and knowledge systems that produced them, and then centers the rest of his argument around the incorporation of these ideologies and systems in the colonial politics and governing structures in Egypt. I will then analyze the tensions between colonizing and colonized in Iraq, particularly as they are reflected in the conflict between Gertrude Bell, founder of the Iraqi National Museum, and Sati al Husri, Minister of Education and later Minister of Antiquities, during the British administration of Iraq. Chapter three will explore Benedict Anderson’s notion of an imagined community and the formation of national identity. Then I will use his arguments as the basis for my analysis of the role of and purposes to which archaeology was put after the British ceded control completely. First I will briefly discuss legislation proposed by al Husri that marks the foundation of indigenous Iraqi archaeology and its use in promoting pan Arabism throughout his career in Iraq as an education official, which ended in 1941 when he and other foreign teachers were deported. This will be followed by a more explicit examination of the development of a distinctly Iraqi (Ba’ath)


12 nationalism and its reflection in the archaeology and museums of the nation under the rule of General ‘Abd al Karim Qasim. Then I will focus more specifically on the use of archaeology and history by Saddam Hussein in constructing particular Iraqi nationalisms depending on his political and civil needs at a given time. In the concluding chapter of my thesis, I will examine the works of Hamilakis, Lawrence Rothfield, and several others who present evidence of colonial practices present in interactions between the West and the East, as evidenced by some of the post Saddam administrative tactics used by the US in Iraq, and discuss the possible consequences of those practices for Iraqi national identity in the future. In the often heated discussions about the circumstances in which the Iraqi National Museum was looted and several archaeological sites, some of them extremely significant, were damaged or raided for artifacts, “[t]he Western archaeological community also pronounced the Mesopotamian past ‘our past,’ thus performing an act of symbolic appropriation.” (Hamilakis 2005:96). I will conclude with an attempt to answer for whom the preservation of cultural heritage is important in light of the arguments previously presented. The preservation of archaeological evidence is necessary not to further colonial and nationalistic agendas, but to improve equality for “worlds and communities whose voices, whose pain – but also whose frustration and anger – need to be heard, and whose views and links with their material culture and heritage need to be embraced and understood” (Hamilakis 2005:99).


13 Chapter 2 Introduction: Colonial Archaeology and the Struggle over Iraqi National Identity “The modern nation is made up of citizens with an affective and imaginative commitment to identity with co citizens. The nation has a state that governs a particular territory and strives to impose a common identity on all citizens through state education, usually focusing on linguistic unity, and that represents a political, diplomatic, and economic unity with its own sovereignty in all these realms. Nationalism is the subjective counterpart of the nation, a space of interiority in which the nation is conceived of as an aspect of Self, as well as an ideology wherein the nation is given a cobbled together (and often purloined) history, a distinctive cultural heritage, and a commonality of interest that all stop at the borders of the nation state.” Juan Cole & Deniz Kandiyoti, Nationalism and the Colonial Legacy in the Middle East and Central Asia Who controls the past controls the future: Who controls the present controls the past. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four Founded in 1923, the Iraqi Museum largely exhibited artifacts from the pre Islamic and pre Arabic period of Iraq’s history. The museum “was conceived – and in many ways continues to function – as a depository of pre Islamic antiquities mostly collected by foreign excavators for the sake of foreigners” (Rothfield 2009:10). Gertrude Bell’s involvement with the museum as creator, organizer, and curator stemmed from two things: her love of Middle Eastern culture and archaeology, and her significant involvement with the British administration beginning with her work at the time of the Mandate and continuing through the formal international recognition of Iraq’s sovereignty. It seems that the remnants of this ancient civilization were the most vivid and real to her, as well as the most relevant. Devoting herself to the study of the past and in particular that of Iraq, Bell selected the aspects most important to her, highlighted them by way of her influence and control of excavation sites and artifact displays, and thus told her particular version of the history of Iraq via the Museum. Bell believed that the British should control of the physical evidence of the country’s history for several reasons, not the least of which was that no native Iraqi


14 archaeologists existed yet, and the fact that the new population of Iraq preferred to ignore the area’s history entirely or focus largely on the post Mohammed period. She was presenting this knowledge neither to nor on behalf of the Iraqi people; the history of the most ancient civilizations were the history of the world, and the world was the audience of the Museum. “Antiquities were not just curiosities or trophies – rather, they represented a living history, remnants of civilizations – something that was to be respected, studied, and preserved” (Bernhardsson 2006:64). However, many Iraqis disagreed with the history of their country as constructed and displayed by Bell. The establishment of the museum came at a pivotal time in the development of the country’s national identity. “A large debate began to develop around the question of Iraqi heritage. Should Iraq try to define itself in terms of its Arab heritage, should it look to ancient Mesopotamia or Islam, or should it forge a new identity from a populist heritage such as that proffered by the nascent Iraqi Communist party?” (Davis 1996:92). Sati al Husri, the Minister of Education, was perhaps the most vocal of those who believed the museum should focus more on Islamic era artifacts than the pre Islamic collection of Gertrude Bell. He was one of the most prominent thinkers in Pan Arabist philosophy, which was slowly gaining popularity and coming into conflict with the ideologies of the colonial British government. Several fundamental differences between the newly coalescing pan Arabic ideology and entrenched dominant Western conceptions of heritage and the past and their role in national identity are exposed in the conflict between Bell and al Husri.


15 This chapter will focus on exploring the differences between the visions of Bell and al Husri concerning the formulation of Iraqi identity as reflected in their disagreement over the museum and its contents. Although Bell was indubitably part of the British colonial administration, her sympathies seem to have leaned in no small part towards the Iraqis. She was regarded by them as being pro Arab, although she adamantly denied it in spite of her support of the Arab independence movement. As the person in charge of Iraqi antiquities, Bell was not only responsible for dispensing excavation permits but also the division of finds between Iraq and the archaeological teams. There are no records of any protests over her decisions concerning these splits, nor any indication that she was ever accompanied by any Iraqi officials when she visited the sites to do so. “The first record of any interest shown by Iraqi politicians in Mesopotamian antiquities is a report by al Husri of a parliamentary debate, apparently in 1927, in which the British Director of Antiquities was accused of stealing artifacts and smuggling them abroad” (Baram 1994:283). This was a year after Bell’s death. Although Bell’s disposition of Iraqi artifacts and control over excavation was by no means malicious in its attitude towards the native citizens themselves, her actions still reflect the overarching colonial weltanschaaung dominating British administration of Iraq and other territories. Al Husri’s writings in the early 1920s demonstrate an adoption of Germanic political philosophy rather than French or British insofar as it separates the ideas of ‘nation’ and ‘state’, defining the former as a group of people who conceptualize themselves as members of a national community and the latter as the independent political/social structure that may or may not govern that community. This


16 notion of an entity, a body of people who could define themselves as Iraqis, and one entirely distinct from the government, contributed to al Husri’s disagreement with the parts of Iraqi history chosen by Bell and displayed in the Museum. To al Husri, the Iraqi people were to be citizens of an explicitly Arab Islamic nation, and such attempts to constitute Iraqi ness as defined by descent from the varied and ancient civilizations previously residing there was inappropriate and contrary to the self constituted Iraqi nation. In order to explore these ideas in greater detail, this chapter is divided into three sections. The first will examine the work of Timothy Mitchell in Colonising Egypt which argues that English colonial methods reveal a particular – very Western – set of ideologies that essentiallize and reify members of and artifacts from other cultures, turning them into objects of spectacle via institutions such as the exhibition, and thus to a certain extent, justifying and facilitating colonial rule. In the second section, I will discuss the political environment in Iraq from WWI to the time of Faisal’s death in 1933, during which time al Husri and the pan Arabists came into conflict with Gertrude Bell’s administration of the Iraqi Museum. Britain’s control over Iraq under the League of Nations Mandate is a particularly interesting example of colonial rule because the political situation among the English population and in Parliament was such that insufficient resources were allotted to actually effectively administer Iraq and create the necessary civic institutions to actually turn the three former vilayets into a cohesive nation. I will then turn to Bell and al Husri, elucidating the debate between them in


17 greater detail as an example of the contrast between nascent Iraqi nationalism and the colonial perspective. British Colonialism in Egypt “Colonialism was distinguished by its power of representation, whose paradigm was the architecture of the colonial city but whose effects extended themselves at every level. It was distinguished not just by representation’s extent, however, but by the very technique. The order and certainty of colonialism was the order of the exhibition, the certainty of representation itself.” Timothy Mitchell, Colonising Egypt “The colonial present is not produced through geopolitics and geoeconomics alone, through foreign and economic policy set into motion by presidents, prime ministers and chief executives, the state, the military apparatus and transnational corporations. It is also set into motion through mundane cultural forms and cultural practices that mark other people irredeemably ‘Other’ and that license the unleashing of exemplary violence against them.” Derek Gregory, The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq Before elucidating further on the specifics of the debate between Bell and al Husri, an examination of the work of Timothy Mitchell will be useful to highlight some of the subtle tensions between their respective weltanschauungs In Colonising Egypt Mitchell presents an extensive discussion on the history of Western practices and institutions used by the British to impose a particular image on Egypt while it was under their rule. The first part of his argument analyzes the representation of Eastern nations in European writings and cultural depictions in the nineteenth century, pointing out the fundamentally Western ideologies and knowledge systems that produced them, and then centers the rest of the book around the incorporation of these ideologies and systems in the colonial politics and governing structures England established in Egypt and other places. Mitchell’s examination of the notion of the Western exhibition is pertinent to considerations of the relationship between politics and national identity formation.


18 Specifically, Mitchell states that non Europeans in the nineteenth century were frequently treated as curiosities, a sort of living embodiment of exhibition caused by the “particularly European concern with rendering things up to be viewed” (1991:2). Eastern visitors to the West typically attended theatres, patronized museums who paraded cultural relics from all over the world, strolled in gardens and went to zoos likewise containing flora and fauna from faraway places. The author argues that these places symbolically reflect and reinforce European ideas about global hierarchy at the time, both in terms of culture and of colonialism. Exhibitions essentially laid claim to being displays of objective reality while in actuality displaying simply the worldviews of Western society. “Exhibitions, museums and other spectacles were not just reflections of [political] certainty, however, but the means of its production, by their technique of rendering history, progress, culture and empire in ‘objective’ form” (1991:7). Mitchell extensively discusses the paradoxical nature of the British colonial relationship in the East. The fondness of the West for objectifying, categorizing, and displaying other cultures in a context that clearly divided spectator and spectacle conflicted with a simultaneous attraction to complete immersion in an experience, “a contradiction which world exhibitions, with their profusion of exotic detail and yet their clear distinction between visitor and exhibit, were built to accommodate and overcome” (1991:27). Because this framework was a fundamental expectation of Western visitors to colonial territories, their initial interactions with places such as Cairo were often confused and disorganized. Unsurprisingly, the British decided to construct alongside the existing Egypt a Westernized, neatly compartmentalized and more


19 comprehensible (to them) version to facilitate their colonial administration. “…[T]he colonial process would try and re order Egypt to appear as a world enframed. Egypt was to be ordered up as something object like. In other words it was to be made picture like and legible, rendered available to political and economic calculation. Colonial power required the country to become readable, like a book, in our own sense of such a term” (1991:33). Moreover, establishing the modern British city alongside the ancient was symbolic in a way of the colonial logic that when the ‘superior’ and ‘civilized’ West had brought the ‘barbaric’ and ‘uncivilized’ East to the same level, colonial control could be ceded as the culture would then be fit to rule itself. “The identity of the modern city is created by what it keeps out. Its modernity is something contingent upon the exclusion of its own opposite. In order to determine itself as the place of…civilisation and power, it must represent outside itself what is…disordered…, barbarian and cowed” (1991:165). The same could be said of the identity of the colonizer, in that it had to constitute the colonized as being distinctly uncivilized, incapable of self rule, and in obvious need of an externally imposed order. Orientalism as a field of study dichotomized the world into these two areas, civilized or not, and the body of academicians who studied it (formally called the International Congress of Orientalists) defined the land included as stretching from Africa to Asia to even Turkey and Greece. This division to a certain extent symbolized the exhibition’s clear separation of spectator and spectacle in the framework through which the West viewed the world. “What Orientalism offered was not just a technical knowledge of Oriental languages, religious beliefs and methods of


20 government, but a series of absolute differences according to which the Oriental could be understood as the negative of the European” (1991:166). British administration in Egypt reflected the capitalist ideologies and notions of ideal political order dominant in Western thought. Mitchell examines the methods that enabled imposition of colonial rule, repeating the words of an officer in the French armed forces stationed in Algeria brought up by Michael Gilsenan: “To establish political authority over a population…there are two modes, one of suppression and one of tutoring. The latter is long term and works upon the mind, the former works upon the body and must come first” (1991:95). Architectural order, essentialized by the West and put into practice in the rebuilding of Cairo by a famous Egyptian named Ali Mubarak, and the institution of a system of schools that mirrored European educational philosophy and discipline techniques prevalent at the time. Both functioned as methods through which the Egyptian population could be colonised and thoroughly inculcated in capitalist values and other Western philosophies and practices. In this fashion, more violent and visibly oppressive methods of subduing a colonized territory and controlling its people could be partially or entirely avoided while retaining the ability to effectively and reasonably peacefully accomplish the necessary administrative and governmental tasks. “The need for a hold upon the mind was explained by Lord Cromer in terms of the very process of constructing a colonial authority…the traditional communal bonds between a ruler and those who were ruled – the ‘community of race, religion, language, and habits of thought’ – did not exist. It was therefore necessary for the government to forge what he called ‘artificial bonds’ in their place” (1991:104).


21 One of the reasons British colonial techniques of order and representation succeeded so well was the breadth and extent to which these ideologies could be made to permeate throughout a populace in general and passed on to as many people as possible individually. This is not to imply that Western values were universally learned and accepted, however, simply that they constituted a major influence proportional to their dominance in and promulgation by the worldview of the colonizers. Particular beliefs were implicitly reflected and made tangible in the reconstruction and colonisation of Egypt, thus functioning, at least in Europe, as confirmation of the correctness of Western dogma in people’s perceptions. These symbolizations of ideological truth consequently were accepted to some degree as accurate displays of the external world, perception informing and influencing reality. “In the modern state, [these processes of representation] were the method by which the apparent existence of a conceptual realm, the separate realm of meaning or order, was to be achieved” (1991:126). Mitchell argues, “The image of national awakening is problematic – not only because it has always implied that people were previously unawake and unaware…but because there seems to follow from this the implication that nationalism always exists, as a singular truth about ‘the nation’ waiting to be realised. It is something discovered, not invented” (1991:119). Post Sumerian Iraq, on the other hand, had essentially been a territory or administrative province of other empires for four thousand years (from the earliest Assyrian and Babylonian rulers through the Islamic caliphs and the Ottomans), and although it could be reasoned that this would make the people living in what would


22 be Iraq unlikely to have a nationalist conception at all, the opposite seems rather more likely based on the vociferousness of their internecine conflicts: there existed and exists a multiplicity of definitions – likely one per person – of the community to which they belong, on multiple levels. “For the different Iraqi groups at the turn of the 20th century there were a number of overlapping theoretical and actual entities in terms of which they could imagine their conclusion” (Zubaida 2002:205).1 The British Mandate in Iraq “When the role of the British in archaeology is examined, it raises questions about their objectivity in ‘advising’ the Iraqi government in general, and demonstrates how they were eager, in certain issues, to even exclude the Iraqis from any significant participation.” Magnus Bernhardsson, The Sense of Belonging: The Politics of Archaeology in Modern Iraq “They play for all they are worth on the passions of the mob and what with the Unity of Islam and the Rights of the Arab Race they make a fine figure. They have created a reign of terror; if anyone says boo in the bazaar it shuts like an oyster.” Gertrude Bell, The Letters of Gertrude Bell, Volume 2 “Modern Iraq was an invention of British military and administrative convenience in the wake of World War I” (Walker 2003:29). Their competition with the French, Spanish and Dutch in the matter of acquiring new lands was extremely profitable for Britain, which retained enormous international power and continued colonial administration through the twentieth century. One of the most prominent threads in the evolution of Iraqi identity began just before World War I: the Arab nationalist movement. The Arab National Congress that took place in Paris in 1913 1 There can be no single absolute definition of a nation anyway, because the connotations, underlying perceptions, implications, and associations of absolutely every single person considering that definition are different. That is also part of why archaeology lends itself so easily to the conscious nationalistic maneuverings of politics: by manipulating which associations a citizen has with their nationality, the particular collective definition that best suits the government’s purposes becomes dominant.


23 defined the term as only the former Ottoman territories in Asia that spoke Arabic, thus excluding Egypt and a few other territories from qualifying (Tibi 1990:111). The British and French offered an alliance to the most powerful group of Arab nationalists against the Ottomans and Germans, promising in return the establishment of a sovereign Arab state once the Ottomans were defeated. This group was led by Sharif Husain of Mecca, the head of the Hashemite dynasty, with the support of Syrians who at the time were not capable on their own of successfully rebelling against the Ottoman Turks; under the terms of the alliance, Husain was to lead the new country. Immediately after the alliance was sealed, the British and French began strategic occupations of as many Ottoman territories as possible, among them al Basrah, Mosul, and Baghdad. By 1917 the Ottoman Empire had fallen, but the British had no intention of ceding control over the areas they occupied, let alone establishing an entirely new country. All Turkish troops had been driven from Arab territories by 1918; the Arab national movement believed their goal of independence was within reach and Sharif’s third son, Faisal, crowned himself king of Syria in an attempt to undermine the Sykes Picot Agreement of 1916. However, the French began rapidly conquering every Arabic territory other than those on the Arabian Peninsula and by 1920 had nearly finished consolidating their hold on this area, deposing Faisal in the process. Baghdad, previously one of the vast territories controlled by the Ottoman Empire, was occupied in 1917 by the British military. Reactions to British rule varied from appreciation that the population was compensated in cash for products and services the occupying forces needed – as opposed to the Ottoman government, who


24 simply requisitioned what they wanted – to dislike for an administration unsusceptible to bribes and intolerant of local authority, to outright hostility stemming from the lack of progress towards the British promise of an independent Arab government (Zubaida). In early 1920 the Iraqis began holding peaceful demonstrations around mosques in Baghdad2. This escalated into armed revolt beginning June 30, after the most prominent religious leaders in Iraq called for a jihad against British rule. There were two groups of leaders of the rebellion, mala’iyya (senior clerics) and Efendiyya (secular nationalists). The latter mostly had been administrators under the Ottomans that were now unemployed in the wake of the British conquest. Literate, educated, and politically conscious, they were a prime force in instigating the rebellion. Former Ottoman army officers constituted the rest of the Efendiyya. According to Zubaida, Wardi argued that this was significant as the first instance of people fighting for notions of “Iraq,” patriotism, and Arabism. Even though the revolt ultimately was defeated, the fighters succeeded in forcing the British from several towns and cities there for a little while. The rebellion “is considered a pivotal historical event, a symbol of Iraq’s national struggle” (Lukitz 2009:12) and symbolizes the nascent Arab and Islamic nationalistic consciousness of the time. Although dispelled in just months, the cost to do so was heavy, both financially and terms of military firepower. The citizens and legislation of Britain became frustrated and began searching for a way to extricate themselves from Iraq. Therefore it was proposed to the League of Nations that the British essentially should assist the Iraqis in forming their own government and then gradually disengage 2 These protests alarmed Gertrude Bell, who began holding nightly gatherings for the leaders of the movement in an attempt to distract them. (Vinogradov 1972)


25 from Iraq. This resolution passed, instituting British administration of the country by League of Nations Mandate. The terms of the Mandate stated that Britain would govern unite the three former Ottoman provinces ( vilayets ) of al Basrah, Mosul, and Baghdad into a new nation that would be self governing within a reasonably short period of time. This new nation they decided to call Iraq, which was a medieval name for the area. “The population that constituted these territories…was organized as more or less self sufficient communities ruled by their own forces, authorities, and hierarchies, with the Ottoman state as a remote imposition with a predominantly fiscal concern” (Zubaida 2002:205). Efforts by the British to implement a sense of common nationality and to govern culture and politics as well as economics were certain to face grave difficulties. The disparate nature of the newly formed nation’s populace in combination with the fact that they had never thought of themselves as a single potential nation meant that attempting to create any kind of unifying, inclusive, meaningful identity as specifically Iraqi would be an extremely hard task at best. “Iraq, on the eve of nation statehood, in transition from Ottoman rule to British, contained a multiplicity of shifting groupings and forces that had conflicting interests and sentiments…” (Zubaida 2002:211) Kurds and Shi’a and Sunni Muslims comprised the population, with further divisions along lines of education, socioeconomic class, political and religious beliefs. Speaking very generally, the Sunni tribes were led by their educated elites, many of whom previously held high positions in the Ottoman government or were army officers; the Shi’a were controlled by extremely powerful and


26 wealthy clergymen (ulama), many of whom originated in and received most of their donations from Iran. However, Sunni Shi’a sectarianism had not yet completely crystallized as a source of civil conflict. The political spectrum ranged from favoring the Ottoman Empire (foremost of these were the Young Turks), joining the nascent pan Arab sentiment beginning to gain popularity, or in fact supported British rule (mostly merchants and business owners). “Intellectuals and nationalists were emphasizing Muslim unity against European powers, while traditional sentiments and antagonisms remained deeply ingrained, as attested by the proclamations of the Naqib3. This was to remain a line of fissure in the imagination of the Iraqi nation and the politics of the state” (Zubaida 2002:210). Britain sent professionals in many areas to aid in the creation of necessary infrastructure in Iraq (Dodge 2006). They did not attempt to use architectural methods of reproducing control in their colonial administration of Iraq, at least in part because the political role they were supposed to play was more supervisory than dictatorial. This does not signify that the British built nothing while governing, merely that the majority of the construction was for infrastructure such as government offices or agricultural in nature, rather than building institutions such as schools or museums. Of course, during her time in the Ministry of Public Works & Transportation Gertrude Bell was responsible for initiating several other public improvement projects. By reason of her studies into earlier cultures in Iraq, she believed that using flood control and irrigation techniques, 3 Naqib al Ashraf, who would later serve as prime minister in the Iraqi government, spoke to Gertrude Bell about the British referendum to determine whether the population preferred British rule or Arab rule and, if the latter, under whom. His opinion was that “the idea…was foolish and could only lead to trouble. The British were the conquerors, and they should rule by right of conquest” (Zubaida 2002:210).


27 the land could support a much larger population than it did at the time. The British restored several canals and dams, to the extent that the acreage of arable land tripled by 1950. This was not without cost, as Walker points out: “Replacing the semidesert that was home to nomadic tribes with irrigated, arable land that needed a settled population to farm it required land reform and a social revolution that threatened the traditional power of tribal chiefs” (2003:32). Efforts by the British to implement a sense of common nationality and to govern culture and politics as well as economics were certain to face grave difficulties. The revolt and the institution of the British mandate that followed “were two critical events that further agitated nationalist feelings”, and “the increasing polarization between nationalists and their foreign overlords served to intensify the dichotomy between self and other” (Davis 1994:91 2). The colonial determination to attempt to initiate cohesion between three previously completely distinct entities, culturally and politically, has had serious consequences for Iraq in both domestic and foreign relations. What resulted was essentially a fragmented nation compelled into a semblance of existence by the British administrators, an amalgamation of Western institutions, political structures and processes, and cultural and ideological perspectives whose implementation in Iraq was intended to unify the area’s extremely diverse populations into a single community in a way that would seem inevitable and inarguable (Dodge 2006:187). The British faced an extremely difficult task in the formation of Iraq for several reasons. “It was a forced creation, lacking the central underpinning of nationhood” (Dawisha 1999:553). Three different groups comprised the population of the new


28 country. The southern, coastal province of al Basrah was home to the Ma’dan, marsh Arabs, who were mostly Shi’a. Baghdad, the central vilayet, consisted mostly of Sunni Muslims but also had one of the largest Jewish populations in the Middle East. Both of the latter were Arabs; the northern area, however, largely hosted non Arabic peoples, mostly Kurds, with Assyrian and Turkomans as well. Although the Shi’a made up more than half of the population, power rested in the hands of the Sunni minority. Forging these disparate groups into at least a semblance of unity was a monumental task, one that is still unfinished and continues to dog political processes and institutions in Iraq to this day. Moreover, the vast majority of the people were tribesmen whose traditions and cultural practices differed greatly from those of the city dwelling residents of Iraq. “As late as 1965, more than forty years after the establishment of the Iraqi state, 50 percent of the population lived in the countryside, most belonging to some tribe and professing tribal values” (Dawisha 1999:554). The British faced additional domestic problems as well in their efforts to bring a new country into being. “Both the money and the manpower that the government could deploy in Iraq became a sensitive political issue, subject to increasing press hostility and parliamentary scrutiny in London” (Dodge 2006:191). By October 1921, therefore, the British had reduced their garrison in Iraq to just 12 battalions, and the budget available for their state building efforts had likewise been drastically decreased. The difficulties thus entailed with resources and manpower were very similar to those the United States would face more than 80 years later. “The primary and constant goal of those in London was to reduce the costs of the Mandate by forcing the Iraqi government to take greater


29 financial and strategic responsibility for its own defence as soon as it could” (Dodge 2006:194). Therefore the British did not put into place the sort of colonial infrastructure and architectural order they had previously used in Egypt. So in 1921 the British decided to institute a monarchy to rule over the widely different people who would henceforth be known broadly as Iraqis. The new government “would be governed by Britain at arm’s length under one of the new League of Nations mandates” (Walker 2003:30). Proposed to be the new king was Prince Faisal ibn Husain of the Hashemites, third son of Sharif of Mecca. Faisal had previously been made ruler of the Arab Kingdom in Syria that was also created after the war, but it was overrun by the French so he was offered the crown of Iraq. “Thanks to his role in the defeat of the Turks, and later his prominence at the Versailles Peace Conference, however, Faisal had unrivaled credentials as the symbol of a post Ottoman, pan Arab future” (Walker 2003:31). The British sent instructions to all the provincial authorities that they were to hold caucuses for the purpose of debating whether or not the Iraqis wanted Faisal as their king. These local discussions tended on some areas in unsettling and unexpected directions, at least from the British perspective. “The Baghdad caucus, for example, demanded that Faisal should head ‘a democratic, parliamentary, and constitutional government’” (Dawisha 2005:14). Two provinces – Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyya – voted against Faisal; the rest voted for him, but some provinces called for restrictions on the power he would hold. “In order to drape some sort of democratic form over Faisal’s rule, Sir Percy Cox, the new British high commissioner in Baghdad, had Faisal’s main rival deported – he was arrested while at a tea with Ser Percy and his wife


30 – and arranged for a plebiscite of the adult male population” (Walker 2003:30). Faisal was crowned king in August while “God Save the King” was played by a British army band. An assembly consisting of 34 tribal sheikhs and 65 other Iraqis approved the constitution of Iraq in 1924. In it the king was given a fair amount of authority, including the ability to call for new elections, choose the prime minister, and dismiss the parliament. Furthermore, political parties were subject to banning, so it was not often that the ones comprising a legislative majority reflected the perspectives of the majority of citizens (Walker). The eligibility of voters was restricted as well; not every male could vote until 1953, and it wasn’t until 1980 that women were allowed to vote. It was this same year of 1924 that a treaty with Britain was passed under which Britain retained their military bases in the country and, moreover, had the power to veto anything the Iraqi legislature approved if Britain believed the piece of legislation contradicted British interests. Parliament consisted almost entirely of British supporters, thanks to Sir Percy Cox, who in 1922 took advantage of a time when King Faisal was hospitalized to close the two main opposition parties previously mentioned and thereby weakening their political power greatly. Faisal’s ascension to the throne was delayed for a time due to opposition from certain factions of the legislature, but he was crowned in August 1921 (Dawisha 2003:16). By 1927 the main goal of the British in Iraq was to extricate themselves as fast as they could. This extended even as far as misrepresenting the actual state of Iraqi development in official League of Nation Mandate Commission reports, as well as


31 ignoring or silencing any complaints about corruption or other abuses by and in the government. Essentially, the British had concluded that establishing an independent, democratic Iraq was a task at which they were doomed to fail, lacking the time, resources, and political will at home to accomplish it. They signed a twenty five year treaty with Iraq in 1930, and two years later relinquished their mandate and decided “to recommend Iraq unconditionally for membership of the League of United Nations…unceremoniously dumping Britain’s commitment to building a democratic and stable state” (Dodge 2006:198). The Labor party had taken over the government in London in 1929 was working seriously towards disengaging from Iraq, and three years later the Great Depression had begun, adding further urgency.“By the time of its independence in 1932, Iraq could neither defend itself against its neighboring states, nor impose order unassisted across its territory, and it depended on the RAF as the final guarantor of its survival” (Dodge 2006:195). King Faisal abolished several laws that were anti Kurdish holdovers from Ottoman rule in 1931, and also sanctioned use of the Kurdish language in schools and courts in Kurdish areas of the country. He was attempting appeasement of the Kurds for the implementation of new taxes and the fact that they were being governed from Baghdad. The king, “while remaining committed to the dream of a pan Arab state, wanted to keep Iraq on the course of progress and modernization begun by the British. Very often, however, his efforts backfired” (Walker 2003:34). This turned out to be the case here, as the concessions proved unsuccessful and the ensuing Kurdish revolt was stopped only because of the assistance of British troops and bombers.


32 The political situation grew tense after Faisal’s death in 1933 and his son Ghazi’s assumption of the throne. Whereas the former wielded a great deal of power and influence among the leaders of the nomadic tribes, the latter lacked this and consequently lacked the ability to prevent them profiting from the 1932 settlement law. Ghazi’s anti British, pro pan Arab attitude did little to dissuade the newly landless from rebelling in 1935, and he had to order the military to end the revolt. Soldiers were also sent to fight some of the Ma’dan, and the Assyrians fleeing from Syria. Therefore, rather than being perceived as allies of the Iraqi citizens they came to be regarded as oppressors. Tensions between the various Iraqi religious, ethnic and political factions increased steadily throughout the decade as sectarian lines between Sunni, Kurd, and Shi’a became more definite and divisive (Walker 2003:35). Anti British pan Arabists demanded Britain honour the promise they made of an independent Arab nation in return for Arab support against the Ottoman Turks; the British were in the process of building yet another nation, the Jewish homeland in Israel called for by the Balfour Declaration, which needless to say exacerbated the Iraqis’ frustration to the point of inciting a rebellion in 1936; overwhelming numbers of the native Jewish population were preparing to immigrate to Israel as soon as possible – and the government under Ghazi was struggling to keep the country together.


33 The Heritage of Iraq: Whose Heritage? Whose Decision? “This clash between Bell and al Husri, two very influential figures in early Iraqi political history, is symbolic for the Anglo Iraqi political and cultural struggle and represents a transitional phase in the history of archaeology in Iraq.” Magnus Bernhardsson, Reclaiming a Plundered Past: Archaeology and Nation Building in Modern Iraq “Such laws and related international conventions, although said to be intended to protect the archaeological record by outlawing looting of archaeological sites and the unregulated trade in antiquities, serve instead to support a state’s nationalist political agenda, its claim on cultural continuity since antiquity…and thus a particular modern nation’s sense of its own importance and uniqueness in the world; archaeology and antiquities at the service of modern nationalist identity politics.” James Cuno, Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities Newly created governments, such as that of Iraq in the 1920s and 1930s, frequently facilitated the selection and exhibition of material evidence of a particular history in attempts to transform the often diverse peoples residing within arbitrary boundaries as designated by European philosophical and political hegemony into a national collective. The shared identity they are trying to promote in the present and future gains credibility if the government can discover (or manufacture) proof of the community’s existence in the past. “It simply remains true that as long as the world is divided into neatly demarcated nation states, those states will continue to justify their existence by invoking their pasts – real or imagined” (Kohl, Kozelsy & Nachman 2007:3). By presenting selected elements of a culture or territory’s past, it is possible for a population’s shared notions of who and what they are in the present and will be in the future to be controlled politically with varying degrees of subtlety. In other words, nationalism is largely the state’s carefully constructed presentation of history for its own purposes. “The types of historical and archaeological sequences, events, facts, and interpretations that are selected, taught, and memorized in cultural transmissions are of


34 crucial importance. These transmissions indeed serve as boundary markers and set the context in which personal and collective identities are established” (2007:19). With an archaeological heritage stretching back literally to the beginnings of civilization at the sites of Babylon and Nineveh, in Iraq the past has been easily visible and readily available to a succession of national governments attempting to influence Iraqi national identity since its creation in 1921. Britain profited in many ways from their colonial endeavors, not the least of which was the incorporation and display of the cultural relics they excavated in subject territories. The reproduction of the dichotomic European weltanschauung became particularly prevalent as an instrument of colonial politics and government, as a means by which subject populations could be subtly inculcated with specifically Western ideologies via the framing of colonial institutions such as schools as well as reproduced in exhibitions and museums. Monuments and other institutionalized public displays summon particular national and cultural conceptions of past and present and thus are manifestations of and agents of reproduction for specific social and political ideologies and identities. Western appropriation of cultural heritage was a means to incorporate those cultures into these exhibitions. “Public heritage spaces, museums and the like have a very specific historical genealogy, one that derives from a very particular set of colonial imperatives and bourgeois Victorian values, and recent scholarship on such genealogies has come to provide a good deal of insight into the organization of heritage discourse” (Weiss 2007:414).


35 Before British colonial rule, archaeological sites were not particularly significant in the lives of local people except as sources of building material; the antiquities laws of the Ottoman Empire dictated that all artifacts were the property of the Sublime Porte (Ottoman government). Thus Iraqi archaeology began as a European exercise and, as in many other places, an unsurprising multitude of objects made their way into private collections and Western museums. Excavations in Iraq were dominated by Westerners, mainly French, British, and Germans in the first part of the nineteenth century and then joined by Americans. Their efforts focused almost entirely upon Iraq’s more ancient Mesopotamian past and ignored the more recent Arabic and Islamic history. This remained the priority of archaeological work in Iraq under the British mandate, during which time the disposition and display of Iraqi antiquities was continuously controlled by Gertrude Bell. Bell had previously been the Oriental secretary of the British High Commissioner and an advisor to the ministry, initially in the Ministry of Education and then the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation. “Eventually, Iraq’s archaeological past would be embraced by its rulers, but that was not the case in the early days of the newly created country” (Rothfield 2009:9). Bell had an interesting past; she was not an archaeologist by profession, but spent several years touring various countries in the Middle East until she finally stopped traveling in Iraq due to her great interest in its Mesopotamian history. She considered German excavations to be outstanding examples of archaeology, having visited their sites in Mesopotamia in 1905 and 1909, and this opinion greatly influenced her later work in Iraq, particularly the drafting of its antiquities legislation. “Bell’s keen sense of


36 historical curiosity and her respect for the ancient civilizations and their remnants guided her views when in 1922 she was responsible for formulating a new archaeological policy for Iraq” (Bernhardsson 2006:65). However, this should not be interpreted as eagerness on behalf of the Iraqi people. The field of archaeology at that time had no formally trained native Iraqi scholars; although there were many individuals with extensive practical archaeological experience, that training lacked theoretical aspects almost or entirely. This lack of official, institutional education significantly contributed to British perceptions of Iraqi history and cultural heritage as something best controlled independently without participation by the Iraqis themselves. They were essentially characterized by the British as being too backwards and ignorant to desire or deserve a role in the making and presentation of their own history. As with most of the other areas they governed, therefore, the majority of the excavated artifacts were removed from the country and displayed in Western museums as part of the larger appropriation of certain areas of humankind’s history. This and other things that occurred under the auspices of Bell reflect the colonial perspective of the colonized as being inferior in a social sense, lacking the qualities that the British felt necessary to be considered civilized such as an institutionalized education system. “It was within this context that the question of the nation’s antiquities became a political issue” (Davis 1994:92). Obviously, such an idea and its reflections in British administration were intolerable from the perspective of the growing proponents of pan Arabism. Iraqi nationalists complained about her curatorship of the Iraqi National


37 Museum (established in 1923) and the selection of artifacts for display, particularly the meager exhibition of Islamic era relics; they wanted to revise the antiquities laws to give Iraq the rights to its own artifacts. Bell’s actions concerning Iraqi antiquities in general and the Iraqi Museum are prime examples of Western attempts to appropriate specific aspects of history under the umbrella of ‘global’ heritage. This was particularly true of the pre Islamic cultural remains that Bell and European scholars found of most interest in threading together a neat progression of the story of humanity. Furthermore, because this part of Iraqi history was the most popular and best studied, it was fairly easy for Bell to literally capitalize on use the museum’s exhibitions of such artifacts and incorporate the museum itself into the larger global capitalist heritage economy. The story of Iraq’s past as chosen and reproduced by the museum was a tidily coherent package that could be easily digested by Western visitors. The fact that Bell seems to have been a fair negotiator between the Iraqis and the British does not negate in any way the fact that she was in fact a part of the colonial administration and did not have the same goals for Iraqi antiquities that the Iraqis themselves did, as evidenced by her conflict with al Husri. “Bell the scholar tended to put the interests of science above national goals. This is something difficult for Iraqi nationalists to understand” (Fagan 1979:253). Moreover, she as little understood the willingness of the Iraqi government to remain fairly ignorant about the pre Islamic civilizations that had once dwelled there as the government did her desire to pursue knowledge about them to the exclusion of the Islamic era remains. Although Faisal expressed interest in the country’s ancient history, his knowledge of it was largely


38 limited to what Bell passed on to him during several tours of archaeological sites, and he was more than likely relieved to be able to pass on responsibility for the antiquities legislation to her. One of the earliest and most vocal of Bell’s detractors was Abu Khaldun Sati al Husri, who served as director general of education and later director of antiquities. Al Husri was one of the first proponents of pan Arabist ideology during a time when “Iraqis came to appreciate the political potential of archaeology” (Bernhardsson 2007:198). While serving in the Iraqi government, he expended a great deal of effort to promulgate these beliefs and the idea of a single unified Arab state. He emphasized that a shared language and collective history were two of the most important elements of a nation. Arab national identity, he argued, was constituted by the Arabic language and an extensive history stretching back to pre Islamic times. Al Husri hired a man named Darwish al Miqdadi who also promulgated pan Arabism. “Miqdadi’s influence, transmitted to the upcoming Arab generation through his books, was immense…contributing to the foundation of Iraqi nationalism and Ba’athism in the next generations” (Abdi 2008:12). His most significant work, published in 1931 and entitled Tarikh al Umma al ‘Arabiyya ( History of the Arab People ), was used as a regular textbook in Iraqi schools as well as some in Syria and Palestine. The argument al Miqdadi set forth in the book was that there had been a Semitic speaking culture whose descendents were Arabs, and the land on which they resided had been surrounded by hostile Aryans who continually invaded, both physically and culturally.


39 “While Arab nationalism in the pre colonial period, as formulated by the Syro Lebanese Western educated intellectuals, sought the introduction of liberal freedoms and bourgeois democracy on Western lines in the context of a secular Arab state, it developed into an apologetic, reactionary, populist and frequently aggressive ideology under colonial rule” (Tibi 1990:116). The events of the Arab Revolt and its aftermath of betrayal by the French and the British significantly altered the intentions and philosophies of the Arab nationalist movement. Among the characteristics of the revised nationalist beliefs was a reversal from the hitherto favor of the French and English and disliking the Germans, obviously partially due to what had taken place but also as a result of the influence of Sati al Husri. As the son of Yemen’s chief Ottoman judge, al Husri received an extensive education there and went on to further studies in Paris, Belgium and Switzerland. Upon his return he began teaching in Ottoman schools and was soon appointed the Director of Education in Syria by the Ottomans. His initial attraction to French philosophies was replaced within a few years by an inclination towards those of the Germans, likely stemming from his observations of the French occupation of Syria. Shortly after accepting the British offer of the throne of Iraq, Faisal ended al Husri’s brief exile to Egypt by giving him several influential positions in Iraq, mostly in the departments of education and archaeology. “In the course of his own teaching, and because of his influence on the educational system in general, al Husri was able to make national education the focus of the educational and cultural policies of the British Mandate” (Tibi 1990:120). As one of the relatively few individuals with a formal education, al Husri understood the


40 importance of a common language and history in creating a shared national identity and thus the significance of control of Iraqi antiquities to its nascent formation. Bell obviously also understood how crucial the past was and would continue to be in Iraq, although the priorities she derived from this perception were clearly very different from those of al Husri; hence their conflict over the Iraqi Museum and the creation of antiquities legislation. Bell’s service in the government became increasingly problematic to Sati al Husri and many others, particularly as the notion of precisely who and what defined the nascent Iraqi national gathered strength and clarity during and after the period of British administration. It is probable that pan Arabist ideology was at the root of al Husri’s conflict with Bell, who approached him in preparation for the arrival of a team of archaeologists headed by Leonard Woolley seeking approval of a drafted Law of Antiquities (mandated in Article 14 of the 1922 Anglo Iraqi Treaty). “The sharpening of the boundaries between ‘we’ and ‘they’ and the spread of concern with questions of self identity began to make explicit the political issues that had heretofore been much more implicit and diffuse in national discourse” (Davis 1994:92). Al Husri expressed reservations about the proposed draft, stating he was concerned that it made the export of artifacts too easy for foreign archaeologists. Bell argued that if the law was structured the way he and other Iraqi nationalists wanted, no foreign archaeological teams would want to conduct excavations there. However, “…apparently because they were all aware of the fact that the digs were being conducted in hopes of uncovering pre Arab and pre Islamic civilizations, neither Faisal nor any of his ministers, including the highly experienced ex


41 Ottoman education administrator, al Husri himself, considered the need to enact a Law of Antiquities until they were prodded to do so by Bell” (Baram 1994:282). Al Husri’s opposition to the proposed law meant that it would not be passed until June 1924. It was under a provision of this law that the antiquities department became part of the Ministry of Public Works instead of the Ministry of Education. Because the nationalists lacked a significant presence in this ministry, Bell essentially ensured that control over the country’s antiquities were not in the hands of the Iraqi authorities. Her argument for this transfer was that the objects displayed in the museum were typically made of stone or architectural in nature, and thus more relevant to those interested in engineering. “This particular incident underlines not only the extent to which the emergence of the museum as a domain of struggle was tied to the rise of the Iraqi nationalist movement but also the need to situate the museum historically in order to understand its political and social meaning” (Davis 1994:93). Bell found it difficult to organize the collection of artifacts that belonged to the newly founded Iraqi Museum. Unsurprisingly, the exhibit focused mainly on pre Islamic civilizations, because those were what interested the foreign archaeological teams (and Bell) and therefore the most extensively excavated. King Faisal’s qualifications for rule stemmed mostly from the fact that he was a descendent of the Prophet, and the cultural and historical leverage the museum could have provided would have been useful. However, it served neither as a glorification of the current monarch nor justification for its rule, an interesting divergence from most other national museums. Instead it was a Western oriented display of Western accumulated artifacts and


42 knowledge about the era of greatest interest to the West. “She and her like minded British friends, perhaps frustrated with the current political realities, strove to re create and document ancient Iraq within this modern kingdom” (Bernhardsson 2006:154). Thus the museum became an altar to Western archaeology, which led to further conflict between Gertrude Bell and Sati al Husri. As the end of the Mandate became close, the concepts passed on through the educational institution increasingly articulated a nascent Iraqi nationalism as well as a pan Arab one. The primary school curriculum he designed in 1922 “distinguished very carefully between ‘the history of the homeland’ and ‘the past of the [Arab] union” (Baram 1994:289). Al Husri’s goals were both to strengthen the notion of a future Arabic national unity and that of a distinctly Iraqi state. Considered at the time to be the leading voice of Pan Arabism, he rejected earlier notions of an Egyptian separation from the rest of the Arab world, especially those which were founded on the basis of Egypt’s longstanding statehood and paraded its Pharaonic history as evidence of distinctivity. Essentially al Husri felt that while the ancient civilizations of the region were certainly something to be proud of, they were just historic achievements rather than cultural influences that should be of consequence in the present. Because this held equally true for Iraq and Syria as for Egypt, “…any keen interest taken in the pre Arab and pre Islamic eras could only have been interpreted as a manifestation of Iraqi political isolationism…” (Baram 1994:287). In 1925 al Husri visited the Iraqi National Museum and was surprised and angered at the lack of Arab or Islamic exhibits, much more so because he realized to the


43 British, that past was not particularly relevant. Al Husri pointed out that all archaeological finds in Crete belonged to their national museum, to which Bell responded that Crete and Iraq were entirely different cases. “In the writings of Arab nationalist, such as the Memoirs of Sati al Husari, the museum becomes a metaphor for a nation’s ability to assert control over its cultural heritage” (Davis 1994:93). The struggle with Bell was twofold in purpose, the first being to force Britain into returning control of the disposition of archaeological finds to the Iraqis and the second, to broaden the museum’s purview from its current exclusively Sumerian, Akkadian, and Assyrian scope. Essentially this would confront the British with the fact of Iraq as a living dynamic culture rather than an ancient, static and dead one. “…What Iraqi nationalists found particularly galling was the complete lack of interest among Western researchers in the country’s ‘living heritage,’ namely, its Arab and Islamic past. It was almost as if foreigners saw the country’s Arab and Muslim inhabitants as interlopers who might threaten what they considered their legitimate efforts to appropriate knowledge and representations of the ‘cradle of (Western) civilization’” (Davis 1994:92).


44 Chapter 3 Nations, Nationalism & Iraq “The nation is imagined in terms of the rival discourses and contests between its fragments.” Sami Zubaida, The Fragments Imagine the Nation “The modern nation is made up of citizens with an affective and imaginative commitment to identity with co citizens. The nation has a state that governs a particular territory and strives to impose a common identity on all citizens through state education, usually focusing on linguistic unity, and that represents a political, diplomatic, and economic unity with its own sovereignty in all these realms. Nationalism is the subjective counterpart of the nation, a space of interiority in which the nation is conceived of as an aspect of Self, as well as an ideology wherein the nation is given a cobbled together (and often purloined) history, a distinctive cultural heritage, and a commonality of interest that all stop at the borders of the nation state. Nationalism implies the ability to identify with a large group of other people, but it also always involves the constitution of those outside the nation as Other in a powerful manner.” Juan Cole & Deniz Kandiyoti, Nationalism and the Colonial Legacy in the Middle East and Central Asia As evidenced by the conflict between Gertrude Bell and Sati al Husri over the excavation and display of Iraq’s artifacts, control over all aspects of a country’s national heritage – including the determination of which sites are excavated, who is permitted to conduct the excavations, and which archaeological finds are exhibited – is for several reasons an extremely serious matter to more than just the citizens of the country. This is especially true of the government of recently formed or decolonized nations like Iraq; “[w]ith few resources, either political or financial, at its disposal, it is understandable why the monarchy should have become interested in promoting…culture and heritage” (Davis 1994:94). Moreover, the display of a purportedly (if newly so) collective past is a fundamental element in the creation of an “imagined community,” a term coined by Benedict Anderson. This chapter will begin with a discussion of the notion of ‘imagined communities’, which Anderson states is the definition of a nation. The argument he presents is that a nation is a group of people bound together by this idea of having in


45 common constituency of an “inherently limited and sovereign” political entity. “It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson 1991:6). No nation exists that is not circumscribed by definite boundaries, if fluid and contested, hence limited; moreover, it is by definition the opposite of a colony, territory, protectorate, or anything of that sort (although perhaps partially constituted by such) and therefore sovereign. The fact that membership in that entity is assumed universal, irrespective of whether and to what extent abuse, discrimination, and other inequalities exist in reality, makes it a community. The rest of this chapter will loosely follow the outline of Kamyar Abdi’s examination of the history of Iraqi nationality, which he divides into three separate phases of development. The first is distinguished by the pan Arab ideology which rapidly gained popularity and support in the decades after British rule in the nascent Arab states that formed after the empire’s collapse. It “survived into early Ba’ath ideology before it was forcefully replaced by a fierce Iraqi nationalism” (Abdi 2008:6). He states that Arab intellectuals of this time were attempting to articulate formally and informally a pan Arab manifesto on the basis of which a unified Arab state extending from the Mediterranean to Iran could be cohered. This period was followed by a surge of Iraqi nationalism as its own distinct Arabism and one that could rival that of Nasserism, in which pan Arabism begins to lose its significance and influence in Iraqi political beliefs in favor of a nationalism more particularly tied to the nation of Iraq itself. The third period


46 Abdi delineates is that of Saddam Hussein. He took advantage of the rich archaeological heritage of ancient Mesopotamia as well as the area’s more recent Islamic past to bolster claims of the superiority of Iraq in the Arab world and further the cause of specifically Iraqi nationalism. ‘Imagined Communities’ “Dyed this way, each colony appeared like a detachable piece of a jigsaw puzzle. As this ‘jigsaw’ effect became normal, each ‘piece’ could be wholly detached from its geographic context. In its final form all explanatory glosses could be summarily removed: lines of longitude and latitude, place names, signs for rivers, seas, and mountains, neighbors Pure sign, no longer compass to the world. In this shape, the map entered an infinitely reproducible series…” Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities “The modern nation is made up of citizens with an affective and imaginative commitment to identity with co citizens. The nation has a state that governs a particular territory and strives to impose a common identity on all citizens through state education, usually focusing on linguistic unity, and that represents a political, diplomatic, and economic unity with its own sovereignty in all these realms. Nationalism is the subjective counterpart of the nation, a space of interiority in which the nation is conceived of as an aspect of Self, as well as an ideology wherein the nation is given a cobbled together (and often purloined) history, a distinctive cultural heritage, and a commonality of interest that all stop at the borders of the nation state. Nationalism implies the ability to identify with a large group of other people, but it also always involves the constitution of those outside the nation as Other in a powerful manner.” Juan Cole & Deniz Kandiyoti, Nationalism and the Colonial Legacy in the Middle East and Central Asia Anderson discusses the difficulties of examining “nation, nationality, [and] nationalism”, citing three major hurdles to doing so: first, the significant difference between perceived and factual age of ‘nations’; second, that possession of a ‘nationality’ is now assumed to be universal, but the specifics of any nationality are by definition universally unique; and third, the lack of any great philosophers of the subject in contrast to its extraordinary influence over people, culture, and politics. Moreover, he states that Nationalism is easily reified and then abstracted into an ideology rather than being understood as the vastly complex and detailed, culturally significant, multi faceted construction of a group of people that it is. Of paramount importance, and what


47 differentiates Anderson’s discussion from others, is the tenet that nationalism is a product of culture. “[N]ationality, or, as one might prefer to put it in view of that word’s multiple significations, nation ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artefacts of a particular kind. To understand them properly we need to consider carefully how they have come into historical being, in what ways their meanings have changed over time, and why, today, they command such profound emotional legitimacy” (1991:4). People’s willingness to make enormous sacrifice, up to and including their lives, for a concept that has barely existed for two hundred years is also attributable to these cultural roots the willingness of people to make enormous sacrifices. The most striking symbol of this is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorial, Anderson argues, pointing out that the occupant thereof may be unidentified but their nationality is implicit and unquestioned. He emphasizes subtly and frequently how heavily rooted present nationalisms are in a historical perspective: the shared idea of what constitutes and defines a particular community is inextricably linked with who and what the ancestors of the community as well as, often, the ancestral residents of a specific locality in colonial instances have been in the past. As nationalisms have emerged from the ideologies of the previous century, the extent to which their evolutions have been perceptibly influenced by political, economical, cultural, social, and global forces becomes more evident. “The fact of the matter is that nationalism thinks in terms of historical destinies…” (1991:149). Nationalism is a fairly nascent phenomenon because prior to World War II, most colonies were expected and/or forced to give their allegiance (among other things) to the country of their colonizers. These populations were considered subsidiary, albeit


48 noncontiguous, segments of that nation rather than internally cohesive communities distinct and independent from that of their governors. The subtle shift from imperial to colonial nationalism is perceptible in several aspects of recent state formations, including the dominance of European languages as officially institutionalized tongues of these countries that nonetheless are used to express and promulgate distinctly non European identities and the close congruence of current national borders to the boundaries previously determined by imperial governments for the territories or districts they administered. “That is why so often in the ‘nation building’ policies of the new states one sees both a genuine, popular nationalist enthusiasm and a systematic, even Machiavellian, instilling of nationalist ideology through the mass media, the educational system, administrative regulations, and so forth. In turn, this blend of popular and official nationalism has been the product of anomalies created by European imperialism: the well known arbitrariness of frontiers, and bilingual intelligentsias poised precariously over diverse monoglot populations” (Anderson 1991:114). Anderson also argues that emerging postcolonial nationalistic ideologies and movements are frequently initiated and supported by the youth ‘intelligentsia’ population because they implicitly associate language, age, and class difference as a result of their experiences in the colonial milieu. He elucidates at length on this prominent characteristic, reasoning that it may be largely attributable to the institutionalized, standardized school systems (a far cry from the largely informal, personal, and local education given to the peers of the intelligentsia and the previous generations) that were put into place by the various colonizing nations. Mitchell also


49 discusses the significance of the colonial educational system, arguing that the institution of a system of schools that mirrored European educational philosophy and discipline techniques prevalent at the time functioned as a method by which the Egyptian population could be colonised and thoroughly inculcated in capitalist values and other Western philosophies and practices. This is especially significant as it regards nascent nationalism, because as Anderson points out, revolutions and nation building are usually conducted by the young people of a population. “Youth meant, above all, the first generation in any significant numbers to have acquired a European education, marking them off linguistically and culturally from their parents’ generation, as well as from the vast bulk of their colonized agemates” (Anderson 1991:119). In learning Western nationalist histories, the youth of a country also absorbed the notion of nationalism itself, especially as an idea considered fundamental to the imagining of those countries and thus perhaps something of significance for their communities as well. Moreover, the youth of the colonizers were being inculcated with the same nationalist ideology and history; yet the fundamental preceding experiences of the two groups, the differences in culture, geography, and especially language, turned the education intended to at least simulate a unity or commonality between these populations into divisions of European nationalists and those beginning to imagine their own nation, the Western educated younger generation of colonized and their non Western educated ancestors and peers. Anderson refers to this as “the unique role played by colonial school systems in promoting colonial nationalisms” (1991:120).


50 Addressing the shift from colonial to ‘official’ nationalism, he states, “The one persistent feature of this style of nationalism was, and is, that it is official – i.e. something emanating from the state, and serving the interests of the state first and foremost” (1991:159). The school system, obviously, is one of the biggest factors in this passing on of official, state sanctioned and instituted pasts and ideas of nationalistic definitions of the polity; however, the particular institution of greatest relevance to further discussion on these topics is the museum. By providing the same sort of physical link to the past that the morning newspaper does for Anderson’s imagined community – a tangible, visual representation of a shared history, as well as, significantly, a specifically selected and presented notion of that history – the museum is as much a nationalist institution as a school system. “Museums, and the museumizing imagination, are both profoundly political” (1991:178). This is especially true in a colonial or post colonial state such as Iraq. “The sharpening of the boundaries between ‘we’ and ‘they’ and the spread of concern with questions of self identity began to make explicit the political issues that had heretofore been much more implicit and diffuse in national discourse” (Davis 1994:92). As I argued in the previous chapter, the formation of a national identity and what should constitute that identity has been a pressing issue for the Iraq’s political leaders since its establishment, and as Anderson points out, state institutions are crucial to the formation, reinforcement and reproduction of the particular identity sponsored by the government. Precise definitions have changed with the goals of each government, but archaeology has consistently been essential in the validation of precisely what defines


51 an Iraqi. Evidence from the past supports a particular vision of the present, politically created and implanted as the foundation of shared consciousness. Iraq: The First Postcolonial State “A generation which ignores its history has no past and no future.” Robert Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long “The Iraqi state’s renewed interest during the 1930s in the country’s Mesopotamian heritage, and its history and artistic creativity more broadly defined, reflected the intensification of the nationalist struggle that emerged following Great Britain’s conquest of Ottoman forces and its occupation of Iraq in 1917.” Eric Davis, The Museum and the Politics of Social Control in Modern Iraq Dodge argues that in 1932, Iraq essentially was only marginally a state because it required the military and financial support of the League of Nations and Britain for its continued existence. The political situation became increasingly tense after Faisal’s death in 1933, with no less than seven military coups in the decade that followed his son Ghazi’s assumption of the throne. Faisal’s rule had drawn its authority in part from the British colonial administration vetting him for the monarchy and in part from his lineage as a descendant of the ancient Hashemite dynasty that once ruled Mesopotamia (especially his influence with the native tribespeople); in contrast, the new heir’s anti British, pro pan Arab attitude did little to dissuade the newly landless from rebelling in 1935, and he had to order the military to end the revolt. Therefore Iraq’s military came to be regarded as merely a puppet of Baghdad rather than the nation’s guarantee of its own security (Walker 2003). When King Ghazi died in a car accident, his son inherited the crown; however, the newly crowned King Faysal II was then merely three years old, so a British supporter named Emir ‘Abd Allah was appointed as regent for the young


52 king and carry out the duties of leading the government. An anti British activist named Rashid Ali al Gaylani who favored the Nazi Axis succeeded in removing ‘Abd Allah, and the British had to come in, force him back out and put Abd Allah back in power. As a consequence, the British maintained a strong military presence in Iraq throughout the end of World War II. In spite of the fact that all official intents and purposes the nascent nation was in charge of its own politics, devolution and future, therefore, the reality of the situation was a country struggling to cohere into some sort of collective sovereign political entity. Tensions between the various Iraqi religious, ethnic and political factions increased steadily throughout the decade, and “[b]y the mid 1930s, the British design of an Iraqi nation was faltering, as the Sunni, Shi'a, and Kurdish regions refused to coalesce” (Walker 2003:35). Anti British pan Arabists demanded Britain honour the promise they made of an independent Arab nation in return for Arab support against the Ottoman Turks; the British were in the process of building yet another nation, the Jewish homeland in Israel called for by the Balfour Declaration, which needless to say exacerbated the Iraqis’ frustration to the point of inciting a rebellion in 1936; overwhelming numbers of the native Jewish population were preparing to immigrate to Israel as soon as possible – and the government under Ghazi was struggling to keep the country together. Bernhardsson states, “Iraq’s national identity, so closely tied to its multifaceted ancient history and its archaeological heritage, is flexible and incorporates many different features, depending on the political circumstances” (2007:202). When al Husri became the director of antiquities in 1934, the focus shifted to emphasize Iraq’s Arabic


53 culture and history. He sought to promulgate his pan Arab ideology, putting most of the department’s funding into preservation and restoration of Islamic monuments and the creation of an Islamic museum at Khan Mirjan. As defined by al Husri, Pan Arabism was comprised of two things: a shared language and a collective sense of history. Earlier civilizations that predated the Islamic era were largely neglected, since they fell during the period the Qur’an calls the age of ignorance. This religious belief led al Husri to consider ancient history something with which modern Iraqis need not concern themselves (Bernhardsson 2007). The first site he directed the excavation of was the Abbasid Palace, which was eventually turned into a museum to Arab Islamic building styles. Three rooms of the palace were dedicated to the memory of King Faisal, drawing an implicit connection between the late king and the early Islamic caliphs as opposed to the Sumerians or other ancient civilizations of Iraq. “…[T]he fact that only Islamic sites were reconstructed at the time, coupled with the immediate use to which the reconstructed buildings were put (educational purposes), implies an Arab Islamic ideological bias” (Baram 1994:291). In 1936 al Husri got legislation presented to and passed by the Iraqi parliament that declared from that point forward all unique artifacts would automatically be the property of the Iraq Museum and only duplicates could be taken by foreign archaeologists – not the 50/50 split instituted by Bell, but better than the majority of countries, which allowed no export whatsoever. The “International Statute for Antiquities and Excavations” passed the following year by the League of Nations was similar, defining the ownership of excavated artifacts to be in the hands of each


54 country’s legislation, but that foreign archaeologists should be allowed to take home duplicates or similar items. Essentially this legislation was the initial piece of groundwork in the foundation of native Iraqi archaeology (Abdi 2008). Post World War I Iraq was moving away from agriculture and into the big cities of the country, such as Baghdad. These new urbanites missed their pastoral existence and a past they perceived to be simpler, a fact reflected in newspapers and other literature in Iraq at the time. Moreover, the traditional style of dress for the Hashemite family (from which came King Faysal) was Bedouin and very similar to traditional garb of the Iraqi tribes. This nostalgia facilitated the establishment of several cultural heritage museums over the first two decades of the country’s existence. “The state was thus able to conflate efforts to promote its own legitimacy with urban nationalists’ concern for Iraq’s Arab and Islamic past and folklore, given their desire to gain a better sense of their historical roots and rural heritage” (Davis 1994:95). In 1937 the government established the Museum of Arab Antiquities and the Museum of National Costumes, which would be followed by the creation of several other cultural institutions: that same year the Institute of Music was founded, followed in 1939 by the Iraq School of Fine Arts and the Museum of Modern Art in 1943. Renamed later as the Museum of Iraqi Art Pioneers, the Museum of Modern Art exhibited mostly the paintings of Iraqi artists of the 1940s who belonged to the realist school of art. The selection of this particular artistic method constitutes an attempt to demonstrate the degree to which Iraqis were capable of understanding and producing artwork of the contemporary period – i.e., how civilized and modern they were.


55 According to Davis, the establishing of these cultural institutions illuminates the governmental endeavor to use these types of exhibitions to counter European perceptions and representations of the Iraqis as backwards, barbaric and/or uncivilized. This was essentially an anti colonial reaction, an attempt to counteract Iraq as constructed and exhibited by the British colonial government. “In Iraq, as in most countries, the museum is not just a neutral public space where citizens come to view painting, sculpture, or artifacts of the past. As with other aspects of Iraqi cultural life, the museum has become highly politicized. Both in their conceptual foundations and contents, the museums established by the Iraqi state during the twentieth century reflect very specific ends” (Davis 1994:90). Iraqi cultural institutions therefore diverge from those in Egypt during the same period, although both were indicative of and contributive to national identity. Rather than colonial (modern) and precolonial (uncivilized) elements coexisting side by side, as if to inspire the colonized about their future greatness, in Iraq it is precolonial (ancient significance) and post colonial (modern) representations that exist adjacent to each other; it is as if to deny the existence of any colonial influence in their cultural heritage and/or national identity. Possibly this might be attributable to the comparative brevity of England’s occupation in the two countries, or perhaps to the fact that one was ruled by an international mandate rather than conquered directly. Regardless, the stamp of British colonialism as reflected in Iraqi cultural institutions is much more subtle than it was in Egypt. “…[F]oreign domination begets a nationalist response…the form and intensity of this response is moderated by the nature of this domination…and the


56 variation in this response among different indigenous groups is a function of the way foreign domination affects the balance of power among these groups” (Moaddel, Tessler & Inglehart 2008:679). Typically the initiations of such government organized and supported institutions of cultural promotion and production originate in the upper levels of the political system, and the particular aspects of history which are emphasized or excluded depend in various degrees on the political currents at the time. “In arguing that the state promoted these types of representations in museums and affiliated institutions, it is important that we not treat the state as a monolith. While the monarchy supported the establishment of museums and other cultural institutions, it was within the ministries, especially in the nationalistically oriented Ministry of Education and in the Iraqi parliament, that the impetus for their development really began” (Davis 1994:96). Therefore the upper levels of the political system (dominated at the time by the pan Arabists) were the originators of these and other efforts at cultural promotion, and politics played a huge role in determining the creation and direction of these institutions and museums. Furthermore, the Ba’athist ideology that would come to dominate later governments of Iraq to a large degree was founded upon the philosophies and writings of many of the political officials most instrumental to these efforts, people who would continue in government service even after the revolution of 1958. Between these perspectives, “a large debate began to develop around the question of Iraqi heritage. Should Iraq try to define itself in terms of its Arab heritage, should it look to ancient Mesopotamia or Islam, or should it forge a new identity from a


57 populist heritage such as that proffered by the nascent Iraqi Communist party?” (Davis 1994:92) Goals of successive Iraqi leaders to create some notion of national identity that could conceivably, or at least creatively, be called shared and common to its population have been difficult to attain. Under Ottoman administration, the widely disparate political, ethnic, and religious identities of its various peoples were far less relevant, in no small part because the Ottomans were never attempting to form them into a single national unit. Once the arbitrary boundaries of the country had been set, a struggle over identity emerged between these diverse and frequently opposing. Moreover, each government could emphasize whichever particular culture or religion they most favored or seemed most dominant or most convenient for pursuing their goals either nationally or internationally. “The existence of such overlapping loyalties has afforded the Iraqi ruling elites countless opportunities to define and redefine the country’s identity in accordance with their political interest and the dictates of policy at any given time” (Dawisha 1999:554). Coups, Coups Everywhere: Iraq in the Post Monarchy Period "Archaeology – the knowledge of how man has acquired his present position and powers – is one of the widest studies, best fitted to open the mind, and to produce that type of wide interests and toleration which is the highest result of education." William Flinders Petrie, Methods and Aims in Archaeology "If there be a connecting theme in the following pages, it is this: an insistence that the archaeologist is digging up, not things, but people." R.E. Mortimer Wheeler, Archaeology from the Earth After the monarchy established by the British was overthrown, the political climate began to turn away from pan Arabism and towards a particularly Iraqi


58 nationalism. The shift away from pan Arabism began with a coup in 1958 organized by the Free Officers Movement4 but led by Colonel Abdul Salam Arif and General ‘Abd al Karim Qasim. Arif was supported by the Ba’athists in his belief that the next step should be to join Egypt and Syria’s pan Arabist union; Qasim argued alongside the Communists that their primary focus should be the development of Iraq itself. These ideological differences meant that Qasim’s rule “represented a critical period in the struggle over the official definition of Iraq’s national identity” (Davis 1994:97). Egypt and Nasserism largely dominated the Arab political world at the time, and as a newcomer on that stage it was important that Iraqi identity be clearly defined, both for the sake of its international standing and to seriously compete with England’s power and influence. Qasim was reluctant to become a member of the United Arab Republic because of the extent to which doing so would allow Nasser to meddle in internal Iraqi matters. In fact, the conflict between pan Arabism and Iraqi nationalism soon caused Qasim to split with Arif; the two got into a serious argument after Arif was removed from the government and initially refused the ambassadorship Qasim offered to West Germany. He was persuaded to accept the post and left for Bonn, but when he attempted to return to Baghdad less than two months later he was arrested on charges of plotting to assassinate Qasim and overthrow the government and sentenced to death at his trial (which was converted to a life sentence in 1962). Baram states that Qasim funneled a great deal of support into Iraqi cultural programs to try to guide the country away from pan Arabism and towards the 4 The same group who led the coup in Egypt that put Gamal Abdel Nasser in power


59 formation of its own territorial nationalism (1994:23). During this time the government’s Directorate of Popular Arts and Cultures sent groups of people throughout the country to research and document the various aspects of Iraqi culture and tradition. With the historical information they collected, Qasim began essentially a culturopolitical campaign originating from ‘guidance centers’ throughout the nation where lectures, photographic exhibits, films, and various publications were held for the benefit of the general population. He also established a Directorate of Popular Arts and Culture, into whose purview he moved the Museum of National Costumes and the Museum of Modern Art. “The state became very involved in cultural production, relying on cultural agents (writers, journalists, poets, and painters) affiliated with the Iraqi left to legitimate the regime and popularize its perceptions of nationalism” (Bashkin 2011:296). Elements of Iraq’s ancient cultural heritage were included in the official panoply: among other instances, the Akkadian sun became the new national emblem and the Iraqi flag prominently displayed the Star of Ishtar. Furthermore, during the first annual celebration of the revolution, there was a large parade with several floats depicting events/accomplishments of the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations such as the Hammurabi Stele and the Ur ziggurat. An enormous painting of Qasim held pride of place on the first float with a cuneiform caption loosely connecting him with the ancient Sumerian god of vegetation and fertility. “Qasim’s injection of the state into the realm of reassessing culture and the past represented the first systematic effort in modern Iraq to officially restructure historical memory” (Davis 2005:110).


60 The emphasis on local, ancient folklore and heritage served to weaken the influence previously held by pan Arab nationalist ideologies. Partly this was due to the significant number of Communists and others in the Qasim government, who felt that basing cultural and national identity nearly or entirely on Islamism and Arabism was far too exclusionary and reductionary to the several major other sectors of the population. Ideologically, the Ba’athists and the Iraqis who supported Nasserism “denied the primacy of class conflict in social change and privileged Sunni Islam to the detriment of Shi’i Islam” (Davis 1994:97). On the other side of the disagreement were Qasim and the Communists and Shi’ites, who took Iraqi nationalist positions in the ongoing struggle for control of the Arab world. However, Qasim lost the support of the Communist party when it became increasingly apparent that he was attempting to construct the new Iraqi government without consulting any of Iraq’s political parties. “Qasim’s aversion to Nasserist Pan Arabism led to discontent among the Ba’ath party and their Pan Arab awakening…” (Abdi 2008:12). Between losing the backing of the Communist party and angering the Ba’athists and other pan Arabists, Qasim’s government started to destabilize rapidly. In 1959 there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt on him, led by Saddam Hussein, and finally in 1963 a coup led by Qasim’s former second in command (Colonel Arif) overthrew the government with the support of the Iraqi Ba’ath party. The Ba’athist party managed to retain control of Iraq for seven months before ‘Arif removed them from the government, and then in 1968 their alliance with General Ahmad Hasan al Bakr resulted in a successful coup that put al Bakr in place as president and Saddam Hussein as deputy president.


61 Ba’athist Iraq “Mr. Hussein’s contribution…was to oversee the reformulation and implementation of a new version of Iraqi nationalism that abundantly selected elements from ancient Mesopotamian history and imagery, incorporated them into a new Iraqi national identity and symbolism associated with it, and most importantly, elevated him to the zenith of Iraqi national hierarchy as the latest in a long line of glorious leaders to guide the people of the land of twin rivers.” Kamyar Abdi, From Pan Arabism to Saddam Hussein’s Cult of Personality “Culture is poorly served by politics. Modern nation states claim culture for themselves. They nationalize it. They say it is important to their identity and they try to police it.” James Cuno, Whose Culture? “During the first decade of their (the Ba’athists) rule, the infant regime chose to introduce its new credo of territorial Iraqi nationalism intertwined with an imperial Iraqi centered brand of Pan Arabism through a purely cultural, rather than explicit political campaign” (Baram 1990:425). Although al Bakr was the more influential of the two at the time, Hussein rapidly rose in power to become the driving influence of the Ba’athist party. He was concerned for the stability of Iraq, and seemingly felt the best way to unify the various factions was to focus on the aspect of cultural and historical heritage most of the country had in common: their ancient Mesopotamian past. Hussein initiated a series of cultural programs that promoted three aspects of Iraqi heritage: first, music, poetry, dance, crafts, and folktales; second, heavily funding Mesopotamian archaeological sites, particularly the rebuilding of Babylon; and third, staging recreations of ancient Mesopotamian rituals to celebrate the spring. “In order to reinforce the vertical bond between the Iraqi and his land, as well as the horizontal bonds between Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’ites, Muslims and Christians, the regime instituted an


62 annual, colorful spring festival to be held in Mosul, with similar state sponsored events occurring in other parts of Iraq” (Baram 1994:303). This marked the beginning of a major shift in Ba’athist party ideology, which previously had explicitly differentiated between the history of the land of Iraq itself and the history of the people living there. Hussein also sponsored a new Antiquities Law that dealt the antiquities trade a severe blow by making it illegal to export any artifacts, or even cultural heritage items such as folk art, that passed in 1974. He explicitly ordered Iraqi diplomatic officials to conduct negotiations for the return of Mesopotamian artifacts in the possession of Western museums, and made it very clear that any country holding a major artifact (such as the Hammurabi Stele) would have to relinquish it if they wanted to purchase Iraqi oil. Moreover, the government began re introducing Mesopotamian names on geographical maps, which by the end of the 1970s had become commonplace referents for many places in Iraq, such as Babylon and Nineveh. The results of this campaign brought home to many of Iraqi’s most powerful citizens and government officials the full value of their Mesopotamian antiquities. Hussein’s influence therefore brought about a shift away from the frequently rabid pan Arabism in Ba’athist party ideology towards territorial Iraqi nationalism. “…[T]he Ba’athist state co opted the desire of large segments of the populace, especially the upwardly mobile middle class, to understand better their history and national heritage” (Davis 1994:98). Once firmly in the seat of power, the Ba’athists in Iraq as well as their fellow party members in Syria and Egypt – began utilizing very similar methods of cultural and intellectual production. The first of these was strict control of print publications,


63 particularly political material in journals and other sources. However, cultural essays or articles were encouraged because they “provided outlets for the younger generation to express itself in ways that did not challenge Ba’athist control of the state and society. History writing, literary criticism, and folkloric studies became important outlets for emerging Iraqi intellectuals to make their mark on cultural production…” (Davis 2005:161) By focusing on encouraging the youth of Iraq in areas such as these, the Ba’athists were able to encourage a sense of cultural and national pride and unity that did not overtly conflict with their pan Arab ideology. Nor did the Ba’athists exclude Western or English language publications from their tight control, even going so far as to hire foreign intellectuals “[i]n an effort to extend the appropriation of historical memory and culture to the international arena” (Davis 2005:164). These (mostly Western) academics were employed to create written and photographic material to reinforce the portrait of an Arab nation whose unity was under attack from all its borders, idolize Iraqi society and cultural heritage, and translate those works of literature either explicitly or implicitly slanted towards Ba’ath ideology. Between 1968 and 1977, the Iraqi government opened several cultural institutions, including more than nine museums. One of these was the Museum of the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party, for which al Bakr had donated his house, spread across five wings and consisting of essentially a historical collection of various pre 1968 party memorabilia and propaganda. Children’s’ museums and Arab Islamic museums were founded, as well as several institutions in provinces outside Baghdad in order to spread Ba’athist cultural production farther outside the capital city. In addition, renovations


64 and expansions were carried out on existing museums such as the Iraqi Museum and the Costume and Folklore Museum (formerly the Museum of National Costumes). Another avenue the Ba’athist party tried “to appropriate cultural production was by organizing in Iraq international conferences and festivals that included large numbers of Arab and foreign intellectuals”, held in cities important in the history and culture of Iraq such as Baghdad and Mosul. The latter city hosted an annual festival in which Mesopotamian civilization and history were gradually appropriated by Hussein in his efforts to construct a specific Iraqi national identity, and encouraging the use of Baghdad for sessions of the Arab League, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), OPEC, and other entities whose purposes best served Ba’athist political objectives. Under Saddam Hussein, the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations once again had a place in Iraqi national history as high as they did under Gertrude Bell and the British colonial administration, but for very different purposes. “What did all this activity reflect? In the most immediate sense, the expanded cultural activity of the state was intended to bolster the legitimacy of the Bakr Husayn regime” (Davis 1994:98). Iraq: The Hussein Years “A state must do everything possible to ensure that its citizens possess a consciousness of togetherness. States composed of multiple ethnic groups need to invest major efforts in doing so – or risk cultural and social disintegration…Evoking history and archaeology, or the past in general, constitutes a major cultural effort to create a consciousness of likeness among individuals.” Phillip Kohl, Mara Kozelsky, & Nachman Ben Yahuda, Selective Remembrances “Above all, however, what led Saddam to embrace archaeology was its usefulness to the domestic cult of personality that he assiduously cultivated after consolidating power in 1979. Saddam saw Iraq’s Mesopotamian past as reflecting glory on himself and made a concerted effort to place himself in a line running back to the very founders of civilization.” Lawrence Rothfield, The Rape of Mesopotamia


65 In 1979, Bakr was eased (or possibly forced) out of the presidency and the Iraqi government was turned over to Saddam Hussein. Although the past had begun to play an increasingly important role in marking out the boundaries of Iraqi identity, it was not until Hussein took power that it became a powerful political tool. Hussein sought to use Mesopotamian heritage to impose a succession overall Iraqi identity over ethnic identities such as Kurdish or Arab, tying the uniquely long history of the country as the ‘cradle of civilization’ into the collective identity he was attempting to create. He continued to emphasize ancient Mesopotamian culture and heritage, creating a specific continuous lineage both for himself as the heir of Nebuchadnezzar and thus the rightful ruler of the Iraqi people as descendents of the people Nebuchadnezzar ruled. “For him and his government, archaeology served one distinct purpose: to bolster his rule and legitimate his questionable foreign policy actions” (Bernhardsson 2007:201). Hussein instituted educational programs, enacted severe laws on looting, hired guards to protect excavations, and otherwise invested heavily in Iraq’s archaeological heritage. The budget of the Department of Antiquities increased more than 80% from 1968 to 1972, resulting in a greater number of excavations, the construction of additional new museums and the renovation of ancient sites. This funding increase was facilitated greatly by a huge rise in oil prices, exponentially increasing the amount of oil revenue to Iraq. “Hussein’s government spent inordinate sums on rebuilding Iraqi archaeological sites and museums” (Bernhardsson 2007:201). A large portion of this was on the reconstruction of Babylon, more than $30 million, but the efforts were hindered by difficulties such as the necessity to redirect the course of a nearby river. Funds and labor


66 were poured into not only Nebuchadnezzar’s palace but also on a Greek amphitheatre and two temples. “Iraq has sought to demonstrate through archaeology how its modern and ethnically diverse population is tied to the various peoples and periods of the country’s recent and distant past. Archaeology also provided the props and the scientific justification for the government’s legitimacy and its policies” (2007:191). Nor did Saddam stop with the connection of the various ethnicities into a pan Iraqi consciousness. He began rebuilding Babylon in 1982, starting with the reconstruction of Nebuchadnezzar II’s palace, but included in its foundation millions of new bricks lauding his role as the protector of Iraq. By doing so, Hussein drew an implicit connection of inherited authority between himself and Nebuchadnezzar. Murals around Iraq portrayed the latter or Hammurabi with the dictator, or showed him in the guise of a traditional Arab leader. “Saddam saw Iraq’s Mesopotamian past as reflecting glory on himself and made a concerted effort to place himself in a line running back to the very founders of civilization” (Rothfield 2009:12 3). This was clearly reflected in a government slogan used in rallies: ‘Yesterday Nebuchadnezzar, today Saddam Hussein.’ This emphasis on Iraq’s pre Islamic past was a potential source of conflict with the hitherto dominant pan Arab ideology promulgated by Sati al Husri. “[A] stress on Iraqi identity and the implied promise that the Iraqi people is an eternal one was an unmistakable departure from Ba’ath party orthodoxy, which preached for integrationist Arab unity and the eventual disappearance of the existing Arab peoples within an al Arab crucible” (Baram 1990:426). Due to Hussein’s influence, Ba’athist and nationalist ideology had shifted towards a territorial Iraqi nationalism. He


67 instructed Iraqi historians and philosophers to find a means by which the ancient peoples inhabiting Mesopotamia and the surrounding areas could be endowed with an Arab ancestry. This enabled him to combine specific ideological, religious, and cultural elements from the entire body of potential Iraqi identities to try to further unify the population. Hussein’s reformulated version of what precisely defined an Iraqi as distinct deviated in varying degrees from the hitherto dominant Ba’ath ideology. “…[T]here was no mistaking the great importance ascribed by the ruling regime to the local Iraqi identity and its commitment over more than two decades to its promotion, at the expense of traditional Ba’ath integrationist pan Arab notions” (Baram 1990:426). By invoking the idea of a common history and causing the community to imagine itself, essentially he used political power to create a revisionist Iraqi history that told a particular version of the past – the version most useful to him at the time – in order to justify his actions in the present. “…Saddam Husayn embarked on a number of redefinitions of Iraqi identity…by emphasizing one of the country’s multiple identities at the expense of others, the choice being determined primarily by considerations of political survival” (Dawisha 1999:556). In the hands of Hussein, the past was a malleable entity capable of fitting into whichever mold was most useful politically at the time. This is especially important to a leader if their citizens do not naturally view themselves as a collective with a common history, and the two decades preceding Hussein’s rule had done a lot of damage to the potential for Iraqi Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds to consider themselves equal citizens of the nation. The majority of Kurds and Shi’ites were proponents of the territorial Iraqi


68 identity, whereas the Sunnis were largely pan Arabists in favor of unification with other Arab nations. By the time of Hussein’s reign, tensions between the two factions “were so laden with suspicion and mistrust that compromise and accommodation was literally untenable” (Dawisha 2009:202). His efforts to emphasize certain aspects of Iraqi identity areas increased and tended to change directions slightly at times when the country was at war. One of the best ways to solidify a group of people during conflict with another group is to explicitly differentiate between the two, emphasizing what the members of your group have in common and what unifies them while highlighting the areas where the other group is different or opposite (the more negatively, the better). Hussein did this during the conflict with Iran, redefining Iraqi national identity in subtle ways to try to instill that sense of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ to unify the people behind his actions. At that time, he shifted the focus of his attempts to create a particular national identity away from the most ancient past and towards the more recent Arab nationalist perspective. “There can be little doubt that in the years of the Iran Iraq war, Saddam Husayn and his ruling elite vigorously emphasized the country’s Arab identity, because he considered it to be the most potent weapon in countering the ayatollahs’ Shi’i appeal, thus maintaining the country’s unity and ensuring the survival and permanence of his regime” (Dawisha 1999:559). When the conflict with Iran ended and Iraq began to experience worsening social and economic conditions, Hussein abandoned this emphasis on Islamic Iraqi nationalistic conceptions in favor of an identity as a unified tribal state. “He would declare that there was little difference between the Iraqi state and its tribes in the way both cherished


69 certain values and traditions and rejected others” (Dawisha 1999:564). Another instance of the utilization of cultural heritage to construct national identity happened when Hussein invaded Kuwait, precipitating the Gulf War. He used the American military presence in Saudi Arabia to clarify the distinctions between Iraqi and non Iraqi and emphasize an explicitly Islamic aspect to that national identity. Speeches he made at the time quoted longer passages from the Qur’an, and the frequency of these quotes also increased. Moreover, “[r]eferences to the United States as infidels became more frequent at the expense of such old standard epithets as imperialists and colonialists” (Dawisha 1999:562). When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the contents of the Kuwait National Museum were carefully packed up and sent to Baghdad for safety – luckily, as the Museum was burned during Operation Desert Storm. All of the collection was returned within a few weeks of the end of the war. The events of the 1991 Gulf War and what followed, however, put a serious dent in Saddam Hussein’s ability to utilize Iraq’s cultural heritage in constructing a specific national identity. Nine of thirteen regional museums located in the no fly zones Saddam established were looted and some burned. It seemed that most of the looting was opportunistic rather than premeditated or planned – a cave containing some of the Mosul Museum’s most important cuneiform tablets was taken over by Kurds and the crates were never even opened. “By this time, a truly international illicit market was in place, enabled by the advent of cars, railroads, and transatlantic steamships” (Rothfield 2009:11). But after the UN imposed sanctions went into effect, the largely indifferent attitudes of the majority of the population towards artifacts of


70 the past underwent a serious change that was “fueled by the increasingly desperate living conditions of most Iraqis” (Rothfield 2009:16). In particular, the demand for cylinder seals skyrocketed. These objects are small – about the size of a finger – and easily concealed and transported. Moreover, they are found in great quantities at many sites throughout Iraq. One such seal was sold in the New York art market for nearly half a million dollars. As the funds available for archaeology decreased and personnel were laid off, looting became increasingly prevalent as a way to earn supplemental or even primary income. For Iraqis, the disposition of their cultural heritage had become a matter of pragmatism rather than pride. “And as national authority grew weaker, looters grew more brazen: in one incident, looters fought a pitched battle with soldiers for twenty four hours” (Rothfield 2009:18). Hussein’s attempts to deter this rapidly expanding market were largely unsuccessful. Even the televised execution of ten wealthy businessmen who had attempted to smuggle an Assyrian winged bull into Jordan by chopping it into pieces made little or no difference. Only the appearance on site of armed guards employed by the government to stand watch around the clock prevented looters from taking what they wanted and could most easily sell. Some regional antiquities officials even allowed security personnel to live and farm on site in lieu of cash compensation. Moreover, these guards were not universally armed and “were expected merely to ‘hold the fort’ until the cavalry arrived” (Rothfield 2009:19). This was sometimes necessary when local tribal leaders organized the raids on archaeological sites, raids which increased in frequency as the living and conditions of the Iraqi populace in general worsened. Serious


71 revolts broke out in the Shi’i and Kurdish areas of the nation and Hussein only just managed to stop them. In political and social conditions such as those of Saddam Hussein’s rule, it is unsurprising that the Mesopotamian heritage he publicly venerated and attempted to explicitly connect with himself, providing a version of national history that was also a substantiation of the validity of his rule, was regarded far less favorably as evidence of a past common to all Iraqis than as a means to provide or supplement local citizens’ incomes.


72 Chapter 4 “It's not what you find, it's what you find out. ”5 “Iraq is just a symbol of the attitude of western democracies to the rest of the world.” Harold Pinter “Good scholars, honest scholars, will continue to differ about the interpretation of archaeological remains simply because archaeology is not a science. It is an art. And sometimes it is not even a very good art.” William Dever This thesis has endeavored to show the role archaeology plays in politics, whether it be to create a certain history, build or support a national identity, highlight or elide particular groups or minorities, or provide evidence of a certain aspect of the past. Its use for the first two purposes is essential to a government because the material evidence provided is a tangible link from the present to the cultures and peoples who previously inhabited the same physical location. By creating a perception of a common history and parading proof of that common history to a population, belief in and loyalty to a shared identity is strengthened. This is extremely critical in nations that are diverse, whether in regards to religion, politics, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. It is equally important in nations ruled by oppressive governments, who use the ability to influence that perception to legitimize themselves via these links to the past. Presenting commonalities rather than differences reduces internal conflict and provides a definite and purposely defined boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The sense of belonging is as important as the reinforcement of pride or even superiority in a nation’s history 5 David Hurst Thomas. 1989. Archaeology. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 2nd edition, page 31.


73 f. Beginning in the early 1920s, Iraq’s cultural heritage has been appropriated and put to various uses by every single ruling entity since its founding. Selected aspects of history have been highlighted, ignored or even excluded in the quest to reinforce a particular national identity; always a certain image accompanies these attempts to define Iraqi ness and Iraqi history, whether the creation of that image was motivated by a belief in Western superiority or a desire to reinforce the authenticity of the government and/or leaders.To Gertrude Bell, her steering of Iraqi archaeology and archaeological institutions towards the investigation of the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations was a reflection of her personal fascination with them. At the same time, her efforts to preserve and display this part of history were part of the larger British colonial project in the region that sought to portray native Iraqis as in need of modernizing and civilizing and thereby justify the appropriation of Iraqi heritage on behalf of the (Western) world. Sati al Husri, on the other hand, was one of the foremost ideologues of the nascent pan Arabism sweeping the region at the time. His conflict with Bell over the excavation, disposition, and significance of certain periods of Iraqi history highlights the initial struggles in the newly formed country over what particularities Iraqi identity should possess. Al Husri’s belief that pre Islamic history was an inappropriate lens through which to focus the country’s coalescing national identity led him to promote pan Arabism as the past and future means by which the country and the broader ideological movement could be unified and carefully guide the education of the population in that direction. In his desire to exclude other specific localized Arab


74 nationalisms, al Husri employs archaeology to support his particular image of Iraqi nationalism every bit as much as Gertrude Bell. “Human rights may have been nonexistent under Saddam and the Ba’ath, but Iraq’s archaeological sites and museums were extremely well cared for” (Rothfield 2009:12). Hussein’s use of archaeology and various aspects of Iraqi cultural heritage were unparalleled in the history of the country – he well nigh singlehandedly changed the fundamental nature of the definition of Iraqi from a pan Arabic Islamic identity to a territorial nationalism. Depending on his political needs at a given time, Hussein emphasized various aspects of Iraqi history in a never ending drive to unify the populace and legitimate his rule. This utilization was enabled in large part by the enormous amount of money allotted in the first years of his reign to archaeological excavation and restoration. The importance of the ancient Mesopotamian cultures in the history of humankind and the region’s role as the ‘cradle of civilization’ merely added weight to its use in the formation of a sense of collective Iraqi ness. “The politics of archaeology in Iraq has thus proceeded hand in hand with the politics of nationalism, and the fate of Iraqi objects has been intrinsically tied to the political process, both international and domestic” (Bernhardsson 2007:202). The National Security Strategy released in September 2002, approximately six months before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, states explicitly that the civil rights and privileges enumerated previously in the document, such as religious tolerance and education, were “values of freedom” that were “right and true for every person, in every society.” Several things are signified by this position: first, as Robinson argues,


75 “The universality of democratic values and benefits assumed here, and the crusading spirit invoked, are remarkable” (2005:48). Taken for granted in the argument is the notion that the American way is the correct way for every other person on the planet, and consequently it is a certainty that everyone deprived of it want this form of government; are unanimous in their expectations of its powers and duties; and will enthusiastically abandon all other forms of government as inferior at best to embrace it in spite of any cultural, religious, economic, geographic, or other kind of variation rendering the adoption of these Western notions difficult or impossible. As a military modus operandi it dictates that if the superiority of democracy and liberty are unclear to a civil government or population, perhaps a slight application of force will provide the needed persuasion. The American invasion and occupation of Iraq is controversially, but justifiably, termed neocolonial for several reasons. Consider the British rule of Egypt; Western societal structure, political organization, etc. were all represented to Egypt as being inherently superior and promoted as something that their therefore inferior culture should strive to attain (with the ‘help’ of the British, of course). Attitudes of and actions by the US government towards and in Iraq reflect a similar sense of Western colonial superiority. This is recognizable in official government statements in the six months preceding the war, in the concerted efforts at revising the form of Iraqi government and economic system. Calling the military action “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and characterizing it as an attempt to ‘bring democracy’ to Iraq and the Middle East inherently purports democracy as a better, more desirable, more civilized form of


76 government than the current forms of government these countries have in place. “But Iraqi opinions on the subject do not seem to matter to the American leadership or people, who are convinced that democracy is the answer” (Robinson 2005:49). Not only did the United States seek to convert Iraq’s political system, their economic system has also been altered from one that is controlled by the state to one that is based heavily on Western capitalist principles. Again the preexisting structures and institutions of a country were dismantled in order to make way for the ‘superior’ ones of the occupiers. This allowed the US to benefit from Iraq’s resources and revenue while being its civil and political administrators, similar to British Egypt and other colonial administrations throughout history. “Here neocolonialism signifies a new form of colonization whereby a sovereign state (i.e., Iraq) is under political, economic, and military control by a hegemonic power” (Welch 2008:258). Of particular relevance to this thesis, however, is what is revealed by the American government’s complete failure to implement even marginal safeguards to protect archaeological sites and cultural institutions. This negligence of Iraqi heritage evokes the notion of the colonial ‘other’, a perspective from which there is no need to take such measures because there is nothing worth protecting. So, armed with this neocolonial philosophy, the United States and its allies invaded Iraq in late March of 2003 and marched into Baghdad on April 8. Prewar planning on cultural heritage protection was limited to the creation of a no strike list, in spite of the attempts by the American Council on Cultural Policy (ACCP) and several other organizations and individuals to draw attention to the importance of instituting looting prevention


77 measures and guarding archaeological sites. As a result, the Iraqi National Museum founded by Gertrude Bell was looted, several archaeological sites were looted and/or physically damaged, and the Iraqi National Library and Archives were burned and looted. The resulting censure from the international community was met with a lackadaisical attitude and a few token gestures6 by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other members of the administration. “The loss of heritage can easily be decried as a crime that effects multiple generations, erasing cultural memory and severing links with the past that are integral to forging and maintaining modern identities” (Meskell 2002:564). “The three weeks of uncontrolled looting that greeted the fall of the regime destroyed governmental institutions and left the US occupation with the task of building a new state” (Dodge 2006:189). This raises the question of why cultural heritage should be protected, and for whom? Declaring that Iraqi archaeological sites and artifacts are pieces of global heritage and should be preserved on behalf of the whole world reeks of a colonialism similar to that of Bell and the British; failing almost entirely to safeguard it is irresponsible and equally removes any choice in the matter from the Iraqis themselves. In light of how their cultural heritage has been used, it is perhaps unsurprising that the citizens of Iraq were willing to do a little appropriation of their own. “The violence...was not done with the intent of destroying the country’s history. For the most part, the destruction of these institutions resulted from the frustration of 6 See appendix I, the archaeology awareness playing cards designed by the Department of Defense and distributed to soldiers deployed in Iraq


78 Iraqi citizens after enduring years of political assassinations, stifling oppression, and suppressed intellectual freedom” (Garcia 2007:354). The people surrounding President Bush, members of his cabinet and others, not only controlled what information he received, but were seemingly blinded by their own beliefs to the point of refusing to hear or discuss the opinions of others. Civilian experts in many fields, most conspicuously in the Future of Iraq Project, put together studies, reports and plans on what precisely post war stabilization efforts would require and how long they would take. But the conclusions of these people as well as others in the CIA, the DIA and the NIC, their explicit warnings which have turned out to be accurate to the point of seeming prophetic, were ignored by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, and members of the Pentagon, which meant in turn that Bush was rarely if ever aware of these contradicting predictions. (David 2008) This is not to say that Bush was not ultimately, to use his own words, “the decider”. Many government departments, organizations, and civilians attempted to offer information, contrasting or opposing opinions, and advice. Unfortunately, the fraction that made it through the necessary channels was almost entirely dismissed. That does not absolve Bush’s failure to make certain he was as fully aware as possible of the possible ramifications. “The president – not military commanders – has the responsibility for shaping the key decisions about military strategy. Under the U.S. constitutional system of civilian supremacy, military leaders carry out presidential policy. It is the president’s job to see that the policy is clear and desirable” (Fisher 2006:43 44).


79 “To go to war is the most consequential decision a nation can make” (Gutmann & Thompson 2004:1). Such a serious action should have been investigated and broadly deliberated and all of its potential consequences thoroughly researched and mapped before the decision was made. If the reports and opinions given by his security council did not reveal such analysis, part of his duty as the penultimate authority in the proposed operation was to ask for it. In fact, there were many questions President Bush should have asked, whose answers had already been determined, as Fisher points out, such as “Do we have sufficient troops to make the country secure, prevent looting and violence, safeguard the existing Iraqi stockpiles of weapons in the country, and create a safe climate that will allow for reconstruction?” (Fisher 2006:45) By more thoroughly informing himself, perhaps the president would have conceived a broader picture of the situation in Iraq, one more independent of political and financial agenda. For instance, one wonders to what degree the present situation differs from the state it might be if the president had actually read the reports of the Future of Iraq project. It is possible at least that the war and its aftermath would have occurred precisely the same way, considering that the final decision seems to have been motivated and framed mostly by a particular political dogma. Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Bush all espoused the spread of democracy, by force if necessary, as the National Security Strategy of the United States of America report from 2002 and multiple other public statements and speeches made clear. “The current Iraq war reflects the ideological efforts of neoconservatives who have promoted, in recent


80 decades, a far reaching military agenda to assure American hegemony (the term they prefer) in world affairs” (Fisher 2006:23). Traditionally, moreover, plans for war are the province of the Defense Department while post war operations are the responsibility of the State Department. Bush, however, instead entrusted both warmaking and peacemaking to the Pentagon, which it may safely be said excelled at the first and failed fairly badly at the second. “Miscalculations, errors of intelligence, and false statements have haunted the second war against Iraq. The mistakes came not from the military but from civilian leadership, especially at the level of the White House and within the Pentagon” (Fisher 2006:43). Not only did the officials in charge of planning Iraq’s reconstruction disbelieve that a protracted effort involving hundreds of thousands of troops was likely, they made no plans for such a contingency. (David 2008) These and other failures of the occupying force and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that followed, headed by Paul Bremer, have been a huge detriment in the perception of America by the Iraqis and a gargantuan obstacle to possible future success. “The occupation and the resulting terror and loss of sovereignty has paralyzed and even partially destroyed state capability and legitimacy” (Zunes 2009:102). Bremer and the CPA’s effectiveness were severely limited. Many of the people on its staff were completely ignorant of the culture and customs of the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular, who had been selected because of their ties to the Republican party, were given control over things they had as little knowledge of as they did of the country in which they were supposed to reconstruct them – such as


81 controlling the disbursement of the Iraqi budget, assisting in the drafting of the constitution, and reopening the stock market. Worse, some were insufficiently checked out before they were handed control of these things, resulting in fraud, abuse of power, and misappropriation of funds. Bremer himself had only general knowledge with Arabic language and culture and had never been to Iraq. “The lack of experience yielded miscalculations, misperceptions about how to create and impose a new Iraqi state, and disastrous outcomes” (David 2008:14). Ironically, the US government’s actions and resulting lack of success in the attempt to give Iraqis the gift of democracy clearly highlight some of its weaknesses as a political model. Any system that relies as heavily on deliberation as the American one is only capable of producing a decision as good as the quality of that deliberation – a few major aspects of this include the accuracy of information disseminated to both politicians and the public; to what extent the authority to make a decision and resources to carry it out is distributed among civil, governmental and private entities; the period of time in which action must be taken; and the ability and willingness of any and all citizens to productively participate in these processes. Obviously in Iraq’s case there has been much questioning of the facts behind the invasion and informing the occupation and attempted reconstruction. As a body the American citizens are not responsible for making military decisions, because speedy, decisive action is often needed in current or potential combat situations. “The current Iraq war reflects the ideological efforts of neoconservatives who have promoted, in recent decades, a far reaching military agenda to assure American hegemony (the term they prefer) in world affairs.” (Fisher 2006:23)


82 Particularly, the attempted democratization of the Iraqi government has been a spectacular mistake. “’Freedom’ does not organically transform itself into a liberal democratic order” (Hampson & Mendeloff 2006:33). Although it was assumed by President Bush and others in charge of the war that in fact the general population would be desirous of this system of government, which has turned out not to be the case. During the time it was colonized by Britain, democracy was never successfully established. The only Arab country in the region out of 16 with a democratic government is Lebanon. Historically these areas have been ruled by a command style government with a strong leader. “Under these circumstances, it was a delusion to think it would be easy or even possible to ‘export’ democracy to Iraq. The idea was absurd” (David 2008:15). This is one of the areas in which a much longer term plan should have been created before the invasion. If such a radical transformation in conceptions of the relationship between a government and its citizens is to be successful, it must be acceptable to the population, or at least their roles in it must be understood. “Democratization is a process of cultural, social and political development that does not simply revolve around the exercise of the franchise and the holding of free elections. It also involves the establishment of a civic culture where citizens learn to become active and intelligent participants in society and the political life of their country. This process takes a great deal of time and the right local historical and political conditions” (Hampson & Mendeloff 2006:22). The Shiite majority of the population, in any democratic election, was likely to take control of the government – as actually


83 happened – but considering their long suppression under Hussein along with that of the Kurds, abuse of political power seemed probable. “The vacuum created in Iraq in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime could provide the Shiites with the opportunity to lead the future regime on an Islamic Shiite platform, while exploiting a number of factors: the emotional postwar outburst among Shiites who had been oppressed under the previous regime; the weakness of the Sunni population that was identified with Saddam Hussein’s regime; and the Shiite religious assets of special importance that are located in Iraq…” (Kam 2003:103). Rather than voting for what they believed to be the best interests of the country, Iraqi citizens voted almost entirely along Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish lines. This is one of the many reasons why democracy is a system unlikely to be effective in Iraq, now or in the future – sectarian ties at this point are by and large much stronger than national ones. “When citizens vote their identities in this way, they insert fixed choices into the democratic system, subverting it” (Ottoway 2007:608). In fact, that abuse of their newfound position in the government has materialized. Unspoken or unwritten policies of discrimination have already been enacted by certain government officials, including Jabr, that prevent hiring of Sunnis and supports and encourages violence against them by armed guards. The election may have been a success but the citizen population is still largely stifled and without opportunities. Furthermore, Iraqis hold the US responsible for the current state in which they live, with a standard of living no better than it was before the UN imposed sanctions in 1991, an average per capita income of $2210, and a life expectancy of 68. “After all the enormous suffering that the United States and its


84 allies inflicted upon the Iraqi people during the final dozen years of Saddam’s rule, the failure to improve conditions since his ouster has understandably led to widespread resentment” (Zunes 2009:104). Moreover, between the insurgency and Shiite Sunni violence, physical protection has become a serious issue. Security has become the most pressing concern since the occupation began, leaving the populace to choose between arming themselves or being seriously hurt or killed by others with arms, including opposing group members and even government agents. Tensions between the two groups are extremely high and the average citizen places so little reliance on the police, judicial system and government that militias still prevail as protective forces. “In such deeply divided societies groups fundamentally mistrust each other and are therefore unwilling to sacrifice their ability to provide for their own physical security by disarming and demobilizing militias – a fundamental requirement of political order and national sovereignty” (Hampson & Mendeloff 2006:17). Regardless of any perceived justifications for, or underlying causes and historical contexts of, the tensions between various segments of Iraq’s population, the result is a nation experiencing a great deal of internal turmoil. In this atmosphere of uncertainty and fear about Iraq’s future, the destruction of its heritage – not to say the world – continues to occur in spite of civil and international attempts at prevention. An examination of the current situation in Iraq helps shed some light on the complexities of the answer. First, the protection of archaeological sites continues to be underfunded and undermanned – the antiquities police were supposed to be 5,000 strong by the


85 summer of 2010, and instead there are barely over 100. This number of personnel is just sufficient to guard their headquarters and not much else; the force lacks the resources to maintain information regarding reports of looting. Local antiquities inspectors often do not even have the money for gas to inspect newly looted sites. The department’s budget in 2010 was $2.5 million, rather than the $16 million requested by Qais Hussein Rashid, director of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. In spite of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s order to the Ministry of the Interior for additional police officers, none have been provided. If the people to whom (in all legality) control of archaeological artifacts should belong make the decision, individually or as a community, to destroy that heritage and profit from its destruction, is it the responsibility of others to whom that heritage is valuable to attempt to stem or remedy that destruction? The conflict raised within me, as an anthropologist and politician, someone intimately concerned with the existence of people both at the most subjective and most external extremes, by that question is one which perhaps has no solution. I am not Iraqi; who am I to raise an uproar over the looting of the Iraqi National Museum? It is not my nationality whose legitimation is being altered and reconstructed. Nor am I a politician, to declare that because the nation must be unified, historical elements of its unification should be preserved. This is the dichotomy in the field of cultural preservation: to whom does that culture belong? For whom should it be preserved? And in the case of Iraq as well as several other nations, on what grounds might I claim the right to declare that it should be preserved? In spite of the fact that the appropriation of much of the world’s heritage


86 has been done as part of a colonial mission, where may the line be drawn between human interest and colonial project? If there is anything this thesis has taught me, it is that I do not know the answer to those questions. I have theories, about how Gertrude Bell, Sati al Husri, Saddam Hussein, and many others have used this cultural heritage to their advantage; I have beliefs, about what should and should not happen to, with, and in the name of that cultural heritage; but I do not have answers. Lynn Meskell’s fascinating article, “Negative Heritage and Past Mastering in Archaeology”, raises an extremely interesting point about the absence or destruction of cultural heritage. She terms this ‘negative’ heritage, stating that its significance is equal to the presence or exhibition of archaeological sites and artifacts. Meskell argues that places where what is memorialized is a physical cultural object that no longer exists these locations are as important for the formation of national identity and the framing of cultural heritage as they were before being destroyed. The examples she discusses are the site where the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan and the site in Manhattan where stood the Twin Towers. “Monuments are mnemonics that may serve both as reminders of the past and harbingers of the future”, Meskell states, which is true not only for monuments but for cultural remnants ranging from the ruins of ancient cities to individual pot sherds. National governments therefore can utilize both heritage and its negative to prove the legitimacy of a specific nationality, or destroy those artifacts to prove the irrelevancy of those aspects of cultural heritage. We have seen that in Iraq, “[a]rchaeological legacies become pawns of personal feuds and nationalist goals, ruins and refuse sites fashioned into metaphors of identity.


87 What gets excavated and how reflects heritage needs more than scholarly aims” (Lowenthal 1997:235). Since Hussein was deposed, however, the destruction of the nation’s heritage raises the possibility that perhaps the notion of Meskell’s negative heritage is valid even when the state (or occupying government) allows the damage to occur through failing to institute effective counter measures. The shared consciousness Hussein tried to establish between the various factions of Iraqi identity has begun to fracture as lines are drawn between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd; relations between the groups have deteriorated immensely. “This suggests that the Iraqi national identity, which various Iraqi regimes tried for several decades to develop, modify, and implement, was very much a hollow construct that vanished as soon as the state apparatus that was trying to implement it disappeared” (Abdi 2008:32). It is irrelevant whether the negative consequences on Iraq’s cultural heritage since its occupation reflect this rapidly fragmenting identity or are even partially responsible for it. Anything that has been built may later be destroyed – but that destruction is an irrevocable step, because the original object will never exist again and the framework in which it rests must also therefore be affected. Human cultures have constructed cities, nations, and massive monuments since civilization began, and will certainly continue to do so; these cultural artifacts then became the subject of a particular history and the means of its constitution and reconstitution. Damage to physical remnants of a group’s heritage not only to a certain extent erases tangible links to their history, it also prevents the future evolution and revision of that aspect of the


88 past and therefore, critically, its incorporation into the unceasingly dynamic nature of a people’s identity and origins. “Residues of the past exist in the present as archaeic reminders of a world that was, albeit in infinite variability rather than monolithic expressions or reflections” (Meskell 2002:568). With this in mind, what impact might destroying these “residues of the past” have on a culture’s construction of the present and postulations about the future? Is there any difference if the damage is not caused willfully and purposefully, but from ignorance or negligence, as (arguably) what took place during the occupation of Iraq? If the citizens of Iraq chose to destroy their heritage whilst the occupying forces were otherwise occupied, should its protection be a priority to any other cultural or political entity? Based on my research for this thesis, I believe that not actively preserving these elements of a culture’s past carries the risk of negative consequences far too great – both for the contemporaneous members of a culture, and the people who will consider themselves a part of whatever the group constitutes itself to be in the future. “World” or “human” heritage is protected in the name of the past and on behalf of the present; but the greatest argument for making sure Cheney’s “stuff” doesn’t happen is the potential use of that heritage in the future, in humanity’s endless creations, appropriations, and reconstructions of history.


89 Appendix I The images on pages 90 93 show the pictures and captions on the front of a deck of playing cards that the Department of Defense passed out to American soldiers deployed in Iraq. This was the direct result of widespread international condemnation of the archaeological looting that occurred during the United Statess occupation of the country. Theoretically the cards were supposed to give basi c archaeological advice to people whose entire training had focused on combat, with little to no thought given to the preservation of cultural heritage. The background of each card is a small section of yet another, larger, picture, such that when assembled correctly the background images of each suit reveal the picture, as shown on pages 94 96.7 7 PDF source of images: 09 07cardsuitspuzzlessm.pdf











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