Last week, Iraq’s National Library and Archive (INLA), who had been burned and looted four years ago, was stormed by armed Iraqi security forces, Director Saad Eskander said windows and doors were smashed, and staffers threatened during the two-day siege. He had to plead with them to not damage the library’s collections, which include rare books, manuscripts, and newspapers from the Arab world. While an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman said American and Iraqi forces routinely commandeer houses and buildings as part of military operations, ABC News reported, Eskander said the National Library and Archives should be out of bounds.
The soldiers said they were using the library to protect Shiite worshippers on their way to a shrine—which is more than 15 miles away, Eskander pointed out with skepticism. “In July, U.S. soldiers entered the INLA three times. It seems clear to me that the actions of U.S. soldiers have encouraged Iraqi national guards to do the same,” he wrote, in an e-mail sent to Andy Stephens of the British Library, and circulated further by Stephens.
In a statement, the International Organizations Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and International Council on Archives (ICA) noted “with grave concern” Eskander’s reports, also citing an earlier incident in which an American “military patrol entered INLA’s main building without the director’s permission.” The organizations stated, “IFLA and ICA express professional solidarity with Dr Eskander and his staff and call upon the Government of Iraq and the appropriate military authorities to respect the integrity of this important cultural institution.”
Like Iraq’s national museum, the library and archive was badly damaged in the chaos that gripped Baghdad following the collapse of Saddam’s regime. Large parts were gutted by arsonists, and pillaged by looters. More seriously, the library estimated it lost 25% of its collections, including many rare books, while the archive lost 60% of its collections, including irreplaceable records from the Ottoman era.