June 9, 2004

Iraq National Library fire: more than met the eye

Fires at the Iraq National Library set as U.S. forces took over Baghdad did not destroy large numbers of rare books and ancient manuscripts as initially feared, U.S. investigators say.

Instead, the fires apparently were aimed at destroying sensitive records about Saddam Hussein's government, said Mary-Jane Deeb, a specialist on the Arab world at the Library of Congress.

Deeb, who headed a three-person team sent to Iraq to check on the library's contents, said it's unclear what information the documents contained.

"All that the librarians would tell us was that (the records) were brought to the library in the late 1980s and were put in the charge of almost 90 people who were not librarians,'' said Deeb, a native of Egypt who also teaches international politics at American University and has published two mystery novels. . .

She said the records were burned with the use of some intensely flammable material like phosphorous - not the sort of thing a causal looter might use - and the destruction was thorough. . .

Archives from earlier periods lay untouched in a nearby room, stored in rice sacks.

Deeb's team reported that the front of the library building was badly burned, the walls, ceilings, staircases and doors charred, and the infrastructure - electricity, heating, plumbing - no longer exists in part of the building. Furniture and equipment were looted. Some books also were scattered about the floor, possibly to give the impression that part of the collection had been looted, as at the National Museum.

"Basically, the collection had not been damaged by the fires because they were in a separate location from the archives,'' said her report to the Library of Congress and the State Department.

AP report, via the Boston Globe.

Posted by David on June 9, 2004 1:27 PM

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