Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Iraqi National Library Developments

ABC News reports on a troubling incident last week involving the Iraqi National Library:

Saad Eskander, who has run the library since 2003, said a group of armed Iraqi troops rushed the archive at gunpoint, smashing windows and doors and threatening staff and library guards.

The director pleaded with the troops to refrain from harming the library's document collection, which includes some of the most historic documents in the Arab world.

The troops held positions in the building for two days before leaving late Thursday, according to Eskander, who said he now fears the archive will be targeted by extremists who routinely attack Iraqi forces here.

"The entire archive is in jeopardy," Eskander said today.

The Iraqi forces reportedly used the library as an overwatch position from which to protect Shia pilgrims. According to ABC, the library's holdings were not damaged during the incident.

Library Journal has some additional background on this story. Basically, US forces have also entered the library on several occasions recently, and Dr. Eskander believes that these incidents gave Iraqi forces the green light to do the same. Dr. Eskander's main concern seems to be that the presence of Iraqi and coalition troops jeopardizes the neutrality of the library and makes it a possible target for terrorists and insurgents. I fully understand Dr. Eskander's concerns. Yet, at the same time, considering Al Qaeda's track record, I find it hard to believe they wouldn't target the library anyway if they thought they could pull it off.

Dr. Eskander's diary for July 2007 records an ugly confrontation with Iraqi soldiers, though not inside the library itself. Also, to provide some historical perspective, it's worth noting that Saddam's Special Republican Guards used the Iraqi National Museum as a fighting position in April 2003.


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