Looting Matters: Antiquities and the Invasion of Kuwait
David Gill, archaeologist, reflects on the fate of antiquities in the Kuwait National Museum during the 1990 invasion by Iraq. Professor Donny George, the former Director-General of the National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq has released a statement through "Looting Matters" about his role after the invasion of Kuwait. This personal account sheds some light into what was happening in Kuwait immediately after the occupation.
George states that in the build-up to the invasion of Kuwait preparations had been made to evacuate the contents of the Baghdad Museum in the event of hostilities extending to Iraq. The Iraqi Ministry of Culture ordered the Baghdad museum officials to evacuate antiquities from the Kuwait National Museum as it was anticipated that Kuwait City would be in the line of future fighting.
This action was in keeping with the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of which Iraq had been an original signatory state. This convention had been put in place after the massive destruction of historically important sites during the Second World War. The Hague Convention allows for the "adoption of peacetime safeguarding measures such as the preparation of inventories, the planning of emergency measures for protection against fire or structural collapse, the preparation for the removal of movable cultural property or the provision for adequate in situ protection of such property, and the designation of competent authorities responsible for the safeguarding of cultural property". A second protocol had been signed in 1999, though not by Iraq.
Donny George was part of a team that made a video record of the contents of the Kuwait National Museum as well as the Islamic collections held in the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah. In addition, an inventory of 25,000 items in the collections was made. A copy of the video was handed to the United Nations. The contents of the museums were then taken to Baghdad and placed in secure locations around Iraq.
At the end of the First Gulf War the Kuwaiti antiquities were handed over at the Baghdad Museum in the presence of UN observers. These items are reported to have been checked against the original lists.
Following the Second Gulf War in 2003, Donny George's own National Museum in Baghdad was ransacked and much of its holdings were dispersed.