Donny George, president of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq, has thrown in the towel, citing lack of money, interference from our Shiite beneficiaries, and a level of violence in Baghdad that drove him to close the National Museum and encase it in concrete walls:
Dr George says that, having worked for the SBAH for over 30 years, he retired on 7 August because his position had become "intolerable" over the past year. "The board has come under the increasing influence of al-Sadr [the militant Shi'ite party founded by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which has 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament and controls a number of ministries]," says Dr George. "I can no longer work with these people who have come in with the new ministry. They have no knowledge of archaeology, no knowledge of antiquities, nothing."
Dr George, who is a Christian, says that in the past year an increasingly Islamist and anti-western agenda over which he had little control had permeated the activities of the SBAH. "A lot of people have been sent to our institutions," he says. "They are only interested in Islamic sites and not Iraq's earlier heritage." According to Dr George, the new President of the SBAH is Haider Farhan, an al-Sadr party member with no relevant experience for the post. "There is nothing to recommend him," says Dr George.
The "For Dummies" version of Islam suggests that Shiism is more historically oriented and less focused on the timelessness of the word of God than Sunnism, so there may be some hope that the Sadrists' anti-intellectualism won't lead to the kind of violence against pre-Islamic culture we've seen in other places. But in the Middle East, you always have to be bullish on the potential for things to get worse…