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Cablegate: Iraq's State Board of Antiquities and Heritage

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.0. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and
Heritage (SBAH) Director, Dr. Donny George, explained to
visiting Embassy Public Affairs (PA) officers that SBAH and
National Museum staffs are ready to work, that cameras and
motion detectors have been installed, but that the security
situation in Iraq continues to delay the opening of the
museum to the public. Dr. George stressed what the Minister
of Culture had told the Ambassador in a recent meeting
(reftel) -- that there remains a need for better security at
archaeological sites across the country. Donor support to
SBAH programs is active, with funding provided from the
U.S., UNESCO, the Italians and the Japanese. The Embassy's
PA Section facilitated coordination between coalition
military units and SBAH in the city of Samarra, but the
security situation kept a SBAH delegation from visiting
archeological sites there. Dr. George expressed no concerns
about Iraqi Jewish Archives remaining in the U.S for
restoration. END SUMMARY.

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2. (U) On December 7, Embassy PA Section Cultural Affairs
Officer (CAO) and a DoD Cultural Liaison Officer (DCLO)
assigned to PAS met with State Board of Antiquities and
Heritage (SBAH) Director Dr. Donny George to discuss
conditions at the Iraqi Museum and at archaeological sites
around Iraq. Also present were SBAH Antiquities Committee
Director Burhan Shakir, and Iraqi National Museum Director
Dr. Ameer. Dr. George emphasized that SBAH and museum
staffs are ready to take on projects, but the security
situation around the country continues to impede their work
and to delay the reopening of the Museum to the public.
Installation of USG-funded surveillance cameras (outside)
and motion detectors (inside) at the museum is complete.
Dr. George confirmed that there are plans and funds at the
Ministry of Culture to install a new lighting system at the
museum and to paint its interior. Only 10 percent of the
museum's collection is currently in the galleries (mostly
fixed exhibits) with the rest of the museum's extensive
holdings still locked in vaults for safekeeping.

3. (U) Coordination between the Ministry of Culture and
SBAH is evolving, according to Dr. George. The Iraqi
Transitional Government recently placed SBAH under the
authority of the new State Ministry for Tourism and
Antiquities, but SBAH's budget remains with the Ministry of
Culture. Dr. George repeated concerns expressed earlier by
the Minister of Culture to the Ambassador (reftel) regarding
the importance of protecting Iraq's archeological sites.
Dr. George asked that more vehicles, weapons and training be
provided by the Embassy's Iraq Reconstruction Management
Office (IRMO) to Iraq's new Facilities Protection Service
(FPS) force. According to Dr. George, the USG gave SBAH
fifteen vehicles, which did arrive in Iraq, but five were
stolen or lost at the airport before they could be
delivered. He added that UNESCO has provided 45 vehicles -
donated by the Japanese - and training in Amman for 75 FPS
officers - donated by the Italians. To date, the Ministry
of Culture has recruited a total of 1,370 FPS officers for
Nasiriya, Samawa, Diwaniya and Babylon. The Baghdad Police
Academy has also provided some training, but more is needed.

4. (U) Dr. George estimated that the Iraqi Museum lost
15,000 objects to looting immediately following the arrival
of coalition forces in Baghdad. Of that number, Dr. George
stated that 4,000 have been relocated, but some of these
remain outside of Iraq - in Kuwait, Syria, Jordan, Poland,
Italy and the U.S. Dr. George praised cooperation with the
U.S. and expressed his satisfaction with the level of
support coming from the U.S.

--------------------------------------------- --
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5. (U) Dr. George characterized the World Monument
Fund/Getty Conservation Institute-funded satellite image
survey of Iraqi archaeological sites as his highest priority
project. He explained that there are currently 12,000
registered sites, but there will be over 100,000 once the
survey is completed. The State University of New York at
Stony Brook is funding a three-year electronic subscription
to archaeological journals and the training of six Museum
conservators in the U.S. Iraqi National Museum Director
Ameer noted that she is scheduled to attend a museum
management course soon at the Field Museum in Chicago. She
called for other Iraqi museum directors around the country
also to get museum management training.

6. (U) Dr. George explained that SBAH has a museum in every
province except Muthanna (Samawa) and Karbala. He commented
that this includes museums in Sulaimaniya and Erbil, but
coordination with these is slow because everything must be
coordinated with the Kurdistan Regional Government's
Ministry of Culture. There are plans to add a library and
lecture hall to each museum. Dr. George expressed
satisfaction that an article was added to the Iraqi
Constitution to bring antiquities under central government
control since, in his view, the provinces are not ready to
manage their cultural sites on their own.

7. (SBU) CAO then reviewed with Dr. George a list of six
U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) projects
(found at http://www.neh.gov/news/archive/20040408). On
April 8, 2004, NEH announced USD 559,000 in awards under its
special initiative "Recovering Iraq's Past." Of the six
listed projects, he stated that only one, a USD 100,000
project by the World Monuments Fund, had started. According
to Dr. George, no one had yet contacted SBAH about any of
the other five, and no work on them has begun.

8. (SBU) Dr. George asked that the USG remain engaged to
improve coordination between SBAH, Coalition Forces and the
Iraqi military. Both Coalition and Iraqi forces have caused
damage to historical sites, he argued, that could have been
prevented with better communications. Military units
inadvertently cause damage due to a lack of knowledge. Dr.
George explained that there were SBAH inspectors available
to coordinate with military units in every province. He
promised to provide their telephone numbers (cellular and
Thuraya) to the CAO.

9. (SBU) Recently, the Cultural Liaison Officer assigned to
the Embassy's PA Section by the Civil-Military Operations
directorate of Multinational Forces - Iraq (CMO/MNF-I)
helped to establish direct communications between SBAH and
military commanders in the city of Samarra in order to
minimize damage being done to historical sites there. SBAH
scheduled a delegation to visit and inspect the area in
order to advise the military on the protection of
antiquities, but SBAH had to postpone the visit when the
area was deemed to be still too dangerous for such work.
Dr. George took the military's cooperation on this matter as
a positive sign, however, and promised to work in similar
ways on issues at other sites around the country.


10. (SBU) Dr. George reconfirmed that there is no problem
allowing Iraqi Jewish Archives (reftel) to remain in the
U.S. for restoration, beyond the time period agreed to in an
initial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Dr. George met
in Berlin recently with U.S. National Archives and Records
Administration (NARA) representative Doris Hamburg to
discuss the matter. According to Dr. George, they agreed
that at least two Iraqi conservators would travel to the
U.S. to participate in the restoration. CAO noted that the
Embassy had just responded to a diplomatic note from the
Iraqi government on this matter, confirming that NARA was
continuing to protect the Archives, from both security and
climate control perspectives, until such time as the planned
restoration efforts can actually begin.

11. (U) COMMENT: Both the Ministry of Culture and SBAH work
cooperatively with Embassy Baghdad on a diverse range of
issues. The Embassy's PA Section hopes to increase its
efforts to facilitate better communications among the
various actors - the Ministry of Culture, SBAH, donors and
others - active in Iraq's cultural heritage sector.
Improved communication with the military concerning Samarra
sets a hopeful precedent, and post anticipates that local
SBAH inspectors will be bringing more issues to our
attention, constructively, in the future. END COMMENT.


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