Excerpt from the diary by Saad Eskander, Director of the National Archives and Library in Iraq at
Tuesday, November 20, 2006
It was by far the worst day of the year.
As soon as my car arrived to the main building, I heard two big explosions. Sunni extremists shelled the medical city and the Ministry of Health by mortars. Both buildings 200 meters are away from our institution. The Minister of Health is a Shi I extremist. His predecessor was the same. Both men replaced the senior and minor staff of the Ministry with their loyal Shi is. The Ministry of Health is now a Shi i stronghold, while the ministry of Higher Education is the stronghold of the Sunnis. The latter was attacked by Shi i extremists last week, and 100 of its Sunni employees were taken hostage. It is the war between these two extremist camps, which threatens our lives day and night.
My secretary, Um Haitham, was a little horrified, as the two bombs landed 70 meters away from her car. Like other people, she talked about the incident for two minutes and then resumed her daily tasks.
I heard another explosion 50 minutes later. The exchange of fire continued for one hour and thirty minutes.
Nadia, a librarian who works at the Computer Department, did not show up. I was told that her father was injured yesterday. He had a bullet removed from his leg.
I met the head of the Bibliography Department, Nadhal, and her supervisor, Jamal, to talk about their works.
By 11.00 a.m. most of my Staff received their monthly salary. I toured some of the departments and talked to many of my staff. I am doing my best to keep their morale high.
At 11.00 a.m. I received devastating news. I was informed that Ali Salih was assassinated in front of his younger sister. Ali was a bright young man. I sent him to Florence in Italy to be trained as a web-designer. Upon returning, he and Nadia began to construct and run our official web-site. He was the symbol of the modernization and reform process of the National Library and Archive. I employed him in January 2004, like many other young librarians and archivists. I hoped that the new generation could lead the way.
It was a very sad day. All the people who knew Ali were weeping that day. All were depressed and morale was at its lowest. Amal, the head of the Computer Department where Ali used to work, could not control her sad feelings. When staff evacuated the building and went home, Amal was still in her office weeping silently. I was the last one to leave. But I had a strong feeling at the time that Amal was still alone in her office. So I decided to go to her. After 15 minutes talking, I was able to persuade her to go home. I did not hide from her my true feelings that I was extremely worried about the safety of the rest of my young staff.
Before leaving, I held a meeting with the heads of all departments. I suggested that for security reasons we should divide the staff into three groups, each group would work only for two days and that the main reading rooms of the Archive and the Library should, as usual, remain open to serve our university students and researchers. All voted in favor of my suggestion. Some of my staff approached me, asking me to leave the country as soon as I could. They were very worried about me that I would be killed in vain.
I returned to my home very depressed; I hugged my 6 months old son and remembered that Ali left behind him two sons, 6 months old and 3 years old.
For security reasons the Archives are closed since November 22.