Looting fear as Iraqi state library seized
Thousands of rare books and manuscripts in Iraq's national library and archive, one of the country's most important cultural institutions, are in peril after the occupation of the building by Iraqi security forces, the library's director said yesterday.
Saad Eskander, a respected Kurdish historian who has run the library since 2003, told the Guardian that up to 20 Iraqi troops had seized the building at gunpoint yesterday, threatening staff and guards.
"They have turned our national archive into a military target," he said. "Tomorrow or the day after, the extremists will attack the Iraqi forces there."
He said the soldiers, who said they had occupied the building to defend Shia worshippers heading to the shrine of Khadimiya, about 15 miles away, had positioned themselves on the roof of the library. They had already started to dismantle the main gate, and had smashed doors and windows inside the main building, he said.
The national library and archive stands on the east bank of the Tigris, close to the old defence ministry, now a military outpost for Iraqi and US troops. The area is a hotbed of insurgent activity.
"The reckless actions of the Iraqi forces and the US military, who appear to condone the operation, will put the staff and library and archival collections in real danger," said Mr Eskander.
He fears soldiers may start looting the building "or even set fire to it".
"We are like many ordinary citizens, caught between the extremists and terrorist on one side, and the Iraqi and US army on their other," he said, vowing he would hold both US army and the Iraqi military responsible for all losses and casualties.
No one from the defence ministry or US military could be reached for comment....
Related here are some photos, from 2003, of library damage in Iraq