Friday, August 10, 2007

Iraq National Library Occupied

The Guardian reports that some twenty Iraqi security forces "seized" the Iraq National Library building at gunpoint yesterday. Library director Saad Eskander "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."

Eskander fears the presence of the security forces will prompt attacks: "They have turned our national archive into a military target. Tomorrow or the day after, the extremists will attack the Iraqi forces there. 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." Eskander told the AP that US troops had "forcibly entered" the building on Monday.

The paper could not get a comment from the UK or US military operations on the apparent seizure of the library building.

Eskander is entirely correct. The library building and grounds must be off-limits as a base for military operations, in order to prevent reprisal attacks on it and other cultural institutions. We saw in the destruction at Sarajevo what happens when libraries become targets of attack, and after the looting in 2003 Iraq's library is having a hard enough time trying to recover. Eskander's made a brilliant go of it, and I hope his powers of persuasion hold out now.

[h/t Book Patrol]