by Julio Godoy
(IPS) PARIS --
UNESCO team had to leave a senior librarian out of a visit to Iraq's libraries and archives last month because U.S. occupying forces denied him a visa.
Jean-Marie Arnoult from the Bibliotheque National de France, the national library in Paris, had been included in the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization) team that visited Baghdad in May.
He was denied a visa because he is French, and because France opposed the war on Iraq, an observer told IPS.
The team went ahead with its inspection without the expert they had enlisted to help them.
Ross Shimon, general secretary of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) condemned the U.S. decision. He has called on the international library and information community to expose this "scandalous state of affairs."
Among the few that responded to his call is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). "The CILIP condemns the refusal of Mr. Arnoult's visa in the strongest possible terms," director of the institute Jill Martin told IPS.
"UNESCO's initiative to bring about cultural reconstruction in Iraq is of global importance, and the rebuilding and restocking of libraries is a vital part of this work," Martin said. "To have a professional librarian as part of the expert team is essential in order to carry this out effectively."
UNESCO representatives and French officials declined to comment on Arnoult's exclusion from the Iraq mission. Other independent experts spoke only on condition of anonymity.
"The U.S. decision is highly regrettable," an official at a Paris-based international association of cultural institutions told IPS. Nobody wants to criticize the U.S. ban on Arnoult openly because everybody wants to maintain a good working relationship with the occupation forces in Iraq, he said.
"What is important now is to have a mission of experts travelling regularly to Iraq to assess the damage done by the war and the pillage to Iraqi cultural treasures," he said. "Therefore nobody wants to quarrel with the U.S., even if this indifference towards the injustice done to Arnoult is intolerable."
The U.S. forces continue to place restrictions on independent experts, according to observers who have returned from Baghdad. Archaeologists and journalists have been denied access to important sites, they said.
"The UNESCO mission that visited Iraq this month could only work in Baghdad, and was not allowed to visit sites located in the countryside," a member of the mission told IPS.
But despite these restrictions, the UNESCO mission released its first evaluation last week of the damage done to Iraqi treasures.
According to this first evaluation, up to 3,000 objects are missing from the National Museum in Baghdad. The National Library's entire collection may have been lost.
Mounir Bouchenaki, assistant director-general for culture at UNESCO and a member of the mission that visited Baghdad, called the destruction of the Iraqi treasures and of the collection in the library "a major cultural disaster."
Bouchenaki accused the U.S. authorities of underplaying the damage caused by war and the pillage. He said in a statement on his return that U.S. claims that less than 25 Iraqi objects had been lost was "a distortion of reality."
Bouchenaki said an exhaustive inventory of Iraqi treasures would have to be made to give "a real figure for the losses." He said the extent of damage was appalling.
"We have still not talked about the losses at the important Museum of Fine Arts," Bouchenaki said. "And the losses at the National Library are a real disaster. The library is gone."
Bouchenaki said many Iraqi treasures looted are being offered for sale on the Internet, and on the international market for arts and antiquities.
Only a handful of major treasures and some 200 small objects have been traced, or returned by the looters, he said.
May 28, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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