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For the record

April 14th, 2003

Shortly before the fall of Basra (4 April), I noted a report in The Times, saying that the British were encouraging looters. The report said

The British view is that the sight of local youths dismantling the offices and barracks of a regime they used to fear shows they have confidence that Saddam Hussain’s henchmen will not be returning to these towns in southern Iraq.

One senior British officer said: “We believe this sends a powerful message that the old guard is truly finished.”

I thought I’d better record this before it went too far down the memory hole. When we come to allocate the responsibility for the destruction of archeological treasures and so on, it will be important to recall that this was the product of deliberate policy, not mere neglect.

Update I’m stunned. A string of commentators in the thread take the line that if the Coalition encourages desperately poor young men to loot government buildings, then stands back while they do a comprehensive job of stripping everything in sight, they’re not to blame because “they only meant Ba’ath party offices and the like”. I was struggling for an analogy for this but res ipsa loquitur .

Further update A further line of exculpation is that the Coalition forces couldn’t have anticipated, when they encouraged looters, that the looting would extend to sites like the Museum. Except that, as the WashPost reports, they were repeatedly warned about the likelihood that the Museum would be looted under the cover of civil disorder (it appears that professional thieves, looking for gold, played a major role in the attack, while generic looting helped them overwhelm any resistance and cover their tracks). The Coalition response was to create as much disorder as possible, then ignore pleas from the Museum for protection.

One last update Bargarz has been particularly sniffy about this post. Interesting, given that he himself approvingly noted the looting of a French cultural centre.

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