Looting the Iraqi National Museum

Video: I set up in his office and recorded a genuine, dynamic interview about the looting of the Iraqi National Museum. I also learned why he had to leave the country, his home, and his career. While it was a valuable, educational experience for me, I feel like I only scratched the surface of this complex, historical, and still misunderstood event.

This short documentary started off as a graduate school project. I took a journalism class last semester where we were asked to pick a subject dealing with the current conflicts in the Middle East.

I played around with some ideas and while on line just stumbled onto the story of the looting of the Iraqi National Museum. I had remembered it, but it was a vague memory devoid of any real details.

As I started to consider this event as a project, I realized how little I knew.

Like many international events, we were keyed into it at the time, but as the weeks went by others things happened, and we moved on to the next big thing. After some research I found out the former director of the Iraqi National Museum now lives in New York. Dr. Donny George, who teaches at Suny Stony Brook in the Asian studies department, returned my call the next day. In the middle of a snow storm I took the LIRR out to the Island to interview him.

When I got there Dr. George was nowhere to be seen. I found someone who got him on the phone and after talking with him found out he thought we were meeting the next day. He said I could wait, but it would be a few hours.

The Asian studies department invited me to their Christmas party down the hall and later in the day, Dr. George arrived. I set up in his office and recorded a genuine, dynamic interview about the looting of the Iraqi National Museum. I also learned why he had to leave the country, his home, and his career. While it was a valuable, educational experience for me, I feel like I only scratched the surface of this complex, historical, and still misunderstood event. It was well worth the wait on that blistery December evening to document his words and experiences.

Thanks to Dr. George for giving me the opportunity to shed some light on an important chapter of the war in Iraq.

Stuart Draper is a ScribeMedia intern and an all-around-politically-minded fellow.

3 thoughts on “Looting the Iraqi National Museum”

  1. I have been following this story, with a heavy heart, ever since it first hit the news in April of 2003. And I have read quite a bit about Donny George, including but certainly not limited to his profile in “Thieves of Baghdad” by Col. Matthew Bogdanos, the Marine whose devotion to the museum in the immediate aftermath of the looting was probably the single biggest contribution to the timely recovery of stolen items, and to first steps on the road to reconstruction of the facility. I always find it very curious that, despite having worked productively hand in hand with Bogdanos for months, George rarely gives Bogdanos any credit whatever — nor does he behave as if he has ever heard a word of the unavoidable (though ultimately tragic) reasons that the museum went unprotected for the crucial four days. I will be meeting Col. Bogdanos at a conference later this spring, and will certainly ask him what’s the deal with Donny George, since he is very generous to George in his book. I found your documentary compelling, though it appears to be attempting to link Donny George’s flight from Iraq with the attack on the museum, when they are really unrelated. The museum was looted by profiteers, both amateur and professional. The upheaval in Donny George’s life is the result of anti-Christian persecution by Shi’ite extremists, probably coupled with him being targeted for having co-operated with coalition members in the interests of the museum. It is impossible to imagine the kind of pressure he has been under — yet I still find his ingratitude toward Bogdanos a bit disturbing.

  2. My message is to Ms. Claudia Brown,
    I want you to know that me and Col. Matthew Bogdanos, are very close friends, in fact we call each other “Brother” this is the way we feel to each other, we work together looking for the looted material from the Iraq Museum, we meet when ever it is possible, we might have had some different poits of view, but, for me, Bogdanos had done and is doing for the Iraq Museum, what a large number or Iraqis had never done, I am sorry that you have got this idea, but the fact is completely diferent.

  3. In early 2005 I spent a month researching the story of the looting of the Iraq National Museum, covering both what in fact happened over those few days in mid-April of 2003 and how it was reported by the international media (reading German, French, and English publications and news outlets):

    Iraq Antiquities Revisited (With Endnotes).

    Having studied this case very carefully, I agree with Claudia Brown. More often than not, sad to say, Donny George has been playing fast and loose with the facts and has tried to paint himself as both a courageous champion and a victim. Col. Bogdanos and his team, however, did more than Donny George for the recovery of the missing 15,000 or so items. Col. Bogdanos was dogged in his search for the truth.

    The more one knows the facts of this story the worse Donny George looks. Even when Donny George knew that 170,000 items had not been stolen, as was estimated by some very shoddy reporting on that first day, he refused to correct the record and continued to blame Americans. As you will see in my article, Donny George knew for certain that fighting positions had been prepared both on the museum grounds and inside the museum buildings — both were indeed used by the Iraqi Army. There were large trenches dug into the lawn of the museum and sniper emplacements put in the building. Donny George, when interviewed, conveniently forgets all of this.

    I went into this story with an open mind, but the amount of mendacity I found was truly shocking.

    I’m glad that Donny George and his family is safe — and in the US, of course, a country that he repeatedly slandered just a few years ago. But his inability to tell the truth when it mattered made a difference in the reporting of the looting of the Iraq Museum. Instead of correcting the story immediately, it would take a couple more months of hard work by Col. Bogdanos and some very good journalists to find out what really happened.

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