The Nahrein Network


Transcript: A Conversation with Rene Teijgeler - Part 2

René Teijgeler talks about Babylon, Archaeological sites, Samara, al-Hatra, looting and evaluation position. Part 2/3


Mehiyar 0:04 You worked in Babel, Babylon, which is now as of 2019, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It wasn't then when you were working there. Let me ask you a question about that. Why would the US and the Polish Army use it as a military camp?

Rene Teijgeler 0:24 I have no idea. The, during the invasion the first soldiers that arrived at the site were the US Marines. And they had some manholes, they dug manholes, which makes sense, but only on the, on the outskirts of the site. And maybe it was also a little bit inside. But that really did not do that much damage. Now, who took the decision to make that a regional headquarters? I don't know. I never could find out. I tried, actually. But I never could find out who did that. Then the region was on the Polish control, so the commander was a Polish general. So that's actually the situation that I entered. The point where I said, my predecessor, Zainab Bahrani, was already very, very upset about the regional headquarters at Babel. And she convinced the ambassador, the US ambassador, to do something about it to get the military out. Now, you see, there was a dual, and you find that in history, after your occupation, too, there was a dual command system. First, you had the State Department for the foreign affairs, read embassy. And then you had a military. Now in that struggle within the Bush government, the military, they won. If you read that history, you know, before the invasion, etc, you'll see that there was constant clash between staff from the military, the Pentagon, and staff from the State Department. And the State Department did have at least a little bit better ideas before the invasion, actually, in protecting the cultural heritage site in Iraq, once the Iraq would be invaded by the US. But it was all down the drain. So it was a constant fight. Now, because I was a military (reserve officer, actually) and also an officer, and that was the one of the advantages, I could go to the High Commander of the US troops in Baghdad, which I did. And it didn't, didn't take me very long to convince them to keep up or to, to leave the site and then put the regional military command somewhere else, which became Diwaniya. They were definitely fully cooperating on that. So in general, when Americans say, "Okay, we'll do it", they will do it. In order to get them that far, that's a different story. I mean, it was 24/7 to get the, to change the the military command from Babel to Diwaniya, it took in the end $200 million. And it took them six months, actually, more or less six months to move everything. Meanwhile, the ministry, the minister asked me to go over to Babylon together with his staff from the SBAH. And sort of negotiate. Yeah, and especially his, his, his intake, his, his main interest was, what kind of damage was there and who done it? Now, he said, "Because in the light of the future, I'm not that much interested in the persons who did the damage, who caused the damage. But I'm more interested in an inventory of the damage at the Babylon site." And then he had good contact with the British Museum and John Curtis. He knew personally and actually, yeah, Donny George also knew John Curtis. Yeah, that was the way it went. And they invited John Curtis to come over. Actually first, the minister invited the UNESCO to come over, to oversee the inventory of the damage at the Babylon site. Then you have to remember the UN Headquarters was blown up in Baghdad before which killed actually the ambassador, the UNESCO ambassador there. So all UN staff was forbidden to go to Iraq, including staff of UNESCO. So that was a dead end. And then they found John Curtis was willing to come over and oversee the damage. So we had a group of people to inventory the damage. We had the local, the local inspector of archaeology there, Babil [Governorate], and especially the Babylon site, Miriam... something. There were the Poles there. And the headquarters, also the regional headquarters, also included two archaeologists, but actually, they were PhD students, militarized PhD students. So also reserve officers. They tried, but they were young, they didn't know much about the circumstances. They did have knowledge of some of the, let's say, technical archaeological knowledge on Babylon. But that was it. And they had no power whatsoever. They just did not have no [sic] power, but they cooperated and they were willing. So they gave us a report when we arrived. And then of course, there was a staff of the SBAH archaeological service. And actually, I went over with the minister a couple of times. Now, before you get to a point that everything was okay, in the handing over of the site, to the SBAH many things happened. First of all, the Polish commander, who got educated in Moscow, didn't want to move the site, to move the regional headquarters. Very easy. So I went back to the high command, a US High Command in Baghdad and said, "Look, I've got a problem here. And he's under your control. So what are you going to do?" So they sent with me, a one star general, didn't help, then they sent a two star general, didn't help either. So then I said to the minister, "Yeah, this is going to be troublesome, it's going to be trouble." I spoke to the political adviser of the Polish commander in Babylon. It's getting a little bit complicated, but this is the way it worked. And he was a, an ambassador, actually, but now in the position of a political adviser, and he was the Polish, the former Polish Ambassador in Yemen. And I could deal with him, but he was sort of sneaky, so I have to be careful with him. So then, the minister, you know, [Mufid] al-Jazairi and I sat around the table and said, "Look, why don't you call up your colleague in Warsaw? And, you know, present him with the problem." Then, I think it went a little bit different, I'm not quite sure. I have to look at my notes to get everything straight. But I think the Minister of Defense in Warsaw was approached, I think, by the Americans, not quite sure. He went to the Ministry of Culture in Warsaw. And he went down to the commander, and then everything was arranged. So then the Polish commander of the regional headquarters at Babylon, was ready to move the regional headquarters. Then we still had this committee to establish, to establish the damage. We had a lot of discussions there. One of the things is, the Iraqis were not allowed to go into the palace. Saddam built this palace, worth $200,000. They only visited it once or twice, within the site of the... Babylon. Actually met a couple of people who cooperated on building the palace. But it was closed to Iraqis, because the Poles, uh, didn't trust the Iraqis. And I said, "Well, today you will trust them. And you will open the doors." Very simple. And I think they were sort of scared, scared of me. I'm not quite sure that... yes. I'm a little bit confusing now. But you have to see that with all the different parties sort of choose me to become the secretary of this committee or the the chief, the leader of the committe. It just naturally went that way. Not quite sure why, but this is what happened. So everybody was looking at me. Anyway, the doors are opened and I said, "Well, there were intelligence units here, then close the door. Now we're going in and this is the palace of the Iraqis and the Iraqis have the right to enter this palace. Pastor." So we did. Then, of course, we had to, later we had discussions with the Minister, what do you want to do with the palace? I said "Make it into a hotel", he said, "No, we better make it to a knowledge center, a heritage knowledge center." which in the end, I agreed with him actually. So then there were all kinds of things that the military wanted to break down like defenses, I said, "No, I don't think that's a good idea." And everything was discussed within this group of people wandering around the side of Babylon to establish the damage. And so we made sort of a contract of what to be, what to leave at the Babylon site, defenses, the watchtowers. I mean, it was to the benefit of the protection of the site. Also, after, the Regional Command, moved to Diwaniya. So we decided with everybody what the Iraqis wanted to leave, which we did. Then there was a problem just because of the oil spills that were there. Many of us thought that... Yeah, quite a quite a lot of damage was either done by nature, for example, the breaking of the beams in the certain houses that were reconstructed already under Saddam at the site. There was heavy rains, it was not very well done. Then there was definitely some damage done with the helicopter site on the, on the Babel, on the Babylon, in Babylon. It was actually started as a parking lot, already, and in the times of Saddam, when he so called, restored or rebuilt Babylon, for example, the Greek theatre. And I met a woman who was actually heading the reconstruction, quotation marks of the Greek theatre and she excused herself. And I told her "Well don't...don't excuse yourself, you probably couldn't do anything under the circumstances." But a lot of [it] actually was concrete that was used for the so-called reconstruction of the Greek theater, and he needed that for the Babylon festival, Saddam. He used the cultural heritage to strengthen his power. Then, yeah, so there were difficulties in trying to figure out what's caused, well, actually what damage was and what caused it. Also the Paradise Road, that leads to the main gate to the Babylon site, at least the way it is constructed now. It's covered by ceramic tiles, big ceramic tiles, and most of them were broken. Now, the Iraqis said it was done by the military. Most of us thought that it was done just by nature by heavy rains. The, at the end of the Paradise road, there are concrete blocks to stop anybody getting in. And the idea was to get rid of them. But I said "Well, you cannot use these roads, you cannot use a heavy truck to go up to these concrete blocks and put them, put them on on the lorries, you cannot do that. It will damage the tiles again." So then, I asked the Poles if they had a helicopter, and they said yes, but I said, "Well, can you lift those blocks?" "No." Then I turned to the Americans. I said, "You have heavy helicopters. Can you do it?" "Yes, we can do it." So that was done. So the blocks at the end of the Paradise road were lifted by helicopter, put on a truck, which was on the asphalt road near nearby, though, that's actually what happened. The question you asked me about if there was illegal digging on Babylon? The answer is very simple. No, that was not. The first to arrive at Babylon, were the US military, the US Marines. And indeed they set up defense ditches and ducts and manholes. According to the SBAH report, much damage however, especially the digging of ditches for defense purposes, and moving and flattening land by both the coalition forces and KBR was done in the site after 2003 but no illegal diggings. This was all confirmed by the different audit reports. When the minister that, which the minister set up, was an international audit with representatives of the SBAH, the Chief Inspector of Babylon, Dr. Miriam Musa, representatives of the US Embassy, the Polish military delegation, which included actually three archaeological PhD students, and they gave a very extensive report of 500 pages, then also people from the Ministry of Culture and the military command, and the British Museum, John Curtis, which was specially done on request of the minister, because UNESCO could not come, because nobody at the UN staff was able to enter Iraq because of security reasons. And they all delivered their reports. And that was actually the basis of the UNESCO ICC Babylon Committee, which was created afterwards and of which I was a member. And they came up with different recommendations. So that is it, yeah. Another thing is the only ones who could actually do some illegal diggings at Babylon were the Poles, the Polish Army. But I read the report again, and there's no evidence that they did any excavations in Babylon. As a matter of fact, they put quite a lot of money in the reconstruction of equipment projects, for the modern buildings on the side of Babylon and in the province, Babil and elsewhere. So they did put in an effort to reconstruct, or at least to rehabilitate some of the buildings but not the antiquities.

Mehiyar 17:08 Just on that point, were SBAH staff, so the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage staff, did they have free access to the whole site when you were there?

Rene Teijgeler 17:18 No. That was one of the point because in the surroundings of Babylon, there was still attacks from quotation mark insurgents. So it was heavily guarded, especially on the outside. Now, when we did the audit, I wanted to see the palace. But there were secret service of the military in the palace, and also especially the, the room with a lot of communication room with a lot of radar information, etc, etc. So that was, according to the Polish military, impossible for us to enter the palace. I said, "well, then you close the door. After all, the palace is part of Babylon, and the Iraqis should have access to everything they want." So what happened? So we went into the palace to see what was going on there. And only one room, the door was closed, and that was the room with all the communication equipment. So for the rest, we could enter wherever we wanted to.

Mehiyar 18:27 On the issue of the palace was it looted in 2003?

Rene Teijgeler 18:34 That I don't know. There was looting on the site. And that was done by the, yeah, by the people in the surroundings, people from Hillah. And other people. I mean, the site was already encrouched by local farmers and villages, which were, was around the site. So the locals did enter the site after 2003 and after the invasion, so everything was cleared. And with that, I mean, all equipment was gone, piping, you name it, office equipment, everything was gone. So most, for example, most of the palace are just totally bare. There was nothing there, except for what the Poles brought in. And that was also the case with other modern buildings around the palace, for example, there are quite a few of buildings to house the staff of Saddam. So everything was just bare. There's nothing there. Everything was ripped, just like in Baghdad with you know, the library and the museums etc.

Mehiyar 19:43 When, when you were there, did you hear of looting? Archeological looting outside the main city of Babylon, in on, in other sites of Babil, of Babylon.

Rene Teijgeler 19:56 Definitely.

Mehiyar 19:57 That was the case. Rene Teijgeler 19:58 Oh, yeah, yeah, we made an estimation but that is more like, well, let's say, not based on facts. But the main sites were looted very much. In fact so far, insofar that people came up with guns, the looters. And what Elizabeth Stone [archaeologist] said is they first dug straight down into the ground. And then on horizontal, horizontal level, they dig. Yeah, they started digging to find out, you know, to look for gold mainly, or anything that was interesting for the illegal artifacts trade, and especially cuneiform tablets and ivory and things like that. And they came with heavy equipment. I mean, there are enough evidence, also pictures of that. So which I just said, which I told you earlier, it was very important to give the inspectors and the staff of the provincial inspectors equipment to first of all defend themselves, connect them to, so we gave them guns, and connect them to a nearby military base, a US military base, so that they could come out and defend the site. And also, which I said earlier, we gave them communication equipment, so they could communicate not only with their own people, and between themselves, but also with the nearby US military base. There was a point to connect the US Army with the staff of the inspectorate, because nobody trusted each other. So we actually went down in one case, I don't remember which one that was... but yeah, that was in Hillah. I introduced the Iraqi staff, and the inspectorate to the local US base, in order to sort of start trusting each other. They also got, the staff also got flak jackets, I remember that and helmets and stuff like that. So that definitely helped to defend the biggest sites at least. On, on a little bit more on Babylon. The one inspector and that is ,this is about the palaces, which we talked about earlier is, one of the points is that actually Saddam only slept there once. And you know, it cost $200 million. And one of the, one of the details is that there was a staircase built in the palace which was building green marble, but Saddam didn't like the color. So they ripped down the whole staircase, which was in, you know, near the entrance. It was just one big, sort of Hollywood movie staircase, and they rebuilt it with the proper green marble. So just a total waste of money.

Mehiyar 23:12 200, 200 million?

Rene Teijgeler 23:14 Yeah. $200 million dollar for the whole palace to be built. Yes.

Mehiyar 23:19 That, there were several parties that completed assessments. I mean, there was a Polish assessment of the damage. There was a [US] State Department funded assessment, John Russell. And there was the, obviously, the UNESCO one, which was the one with which was a final summary. I think one of that John Curtis completed.

Rene Teijgeler 23:44 That wasn't UNESCO. That was the ICC Babylon committee.

Mehiyar 23:47 Yeah.

Rene Teijgeler 23:48 No, yeah, no, actually, the report that John made was actually for the British Museum.

Mehiyar 23:55 Yeah.

Rene Teijgeler 23:55 Then later, John became also a member of the ICC.

Mehiyar 23:59 Okay. And then there was also-

Rene Teijgeler 24:02 Miriam, her report.

Mehiyar 24:03 That was the SBAH, Miriam's report.

Rene Teijgeler 24:06 Yeah.

Mehiyar 24:08 I mean, when we look back at those reports-

Rene Teijgeler 24:10 Can I make a remark on that? Mehiyar 24:12 Yeah.

Rene Teijgeler 24:12 Because in my experiences before in other countries, I noticed that a lot of people, for example, I gave a lecture at the University in Dhaka in Bangladesh, and nobody had any paper or any pencil with them. And I told them, "How you're going to remember what I'm saying?" And so it's sort of laughing. I said, "Well, I will start the seminar when everybody comes back with paper and pencils, and they looked at me like this guy is nuts, which is true, by the way, but anyway, so when I found out that was I sort of, you know, put in this, this senior position within the Babylon committee to establish the damage. I especially asked the Iraqi people to make notes themselves, and to share those notes with us, as we will share the notes with them. Because I make notes on every visit and distributed them to everybody else. Because I knew this was a weakness. So when finally we asked a final report from the Iraqis, they was sort of coming up with empty handed. Until finally, the chief inspector, the main inspector of archaeology there came up with an rather weak report.

Mehiyar 25:33 But there's no, there's been no compensation, there has been no compensation even [though] there has been damage, but there was no compensation in what now 18, 17 years since that damage. So one has to ask, okay, the damage was documented. But there was no, any kind of effort to hold anyone to account. And it's not just Babil or Babylon. But there were other sites as you know, I mean, you worked on other sites, too. I mean, on other sites, you said, you worked on the Malwiya, Samarra, the sniper situation. Can you tell us about that? Because- and then we'll go back to a bit about Babil, I had one question about that. Soon, just tell us a bit about-

Rene Teijgeler 26:16 Well, about compensation. Every commander in the field of the, at least of the US, I know that and I think also the UK, which was mainly present in Basra. If they killed somebody, a civilian, collateral damage, quotation marks again, they would compensate the family a little bit. So they would give them money. Why that did not happen in the case of damage to archaeological sites, or even museums or libraries, I'm not quite sure. There was a lot of money running around, which I was not aware of until afterwards, when I left the country, that was available, available within the Army, with different kinds of funds. I mean, I've been looking at the different funding of the projects. School libraries were repaired and funded by, by units themselves, military units themselves. To get an overview, and I tried again, some time ago, and it's next to impossible to see where all those funds were, came from. There is no overview. Actually, we tried, I told the minister to make an overview of the funds so we could use them. And one of his advisors, ahd started doing that and he had the same idea. It was the Iraqi adviser to the minister who unfortunately got killed later. My, my friend that I talked about, who got killed actually, was an advisor of the Ministry of Culture, and his name was Kamil Shiaa [Abdu Allah]. And I told you, we were very good friends, we saw each other definitely, once, yeah a couple of times on my instigation, but he had the same idea, actually. We started putting together a sheet of all the money that all the projects, we needed the list of projects, actually. Because the ministry was not very well organized. And we did not have control of what's going on in the culture sector and certainly not in the cultural heritage sector. So I proposed the list of projects in the cultural heritage sector and where the money came from, and how much money it was. And he put that together, actually. So he was a very efficient person with modern ideas. Yeah, actually afterwards, we met a couple of times in Erbil, and actually very usefully with his family in Brussels as well. So I was very sorry that he got shot, but he didn't want any protection. Samarra, al-Malwiya [Mosque]. On January 1 or 2, of 2005, a picture appeared in The Wall Street Journal of a sniper on top of al-Malwiya, in Samarra, and everybody was getting upset. Actually, the press officer, the main press officer came to me and he said, "What is this?" I said, "Well, it's an archaeological site. You know, the sniper has no place, you know, a place of being there. You will attract fire from the insurgents." - Quotation marks again. Samarra, it's an important archaeological site. So then I called UNESCO and I said, you know, "Can you give me the details? Because I need to reach out to the local commander at Samarra to get the sniper off, and I need evidence I need, you know, information on the site." And actually, they didn't come up with enough information. So I also asked the SBAH and Donny George, "Give me information I need to know." And I never got clear information. And it took a month, maybe even longer before I really knew what was, you know, how important al-Malwiya was. And actually from the outside, it looks new. But the nucleus is very old. And it was restored again, quotation marks, in Saddam times. So it is an old structure. But it looks a little bit new from the outside because it was restored. Once I got that information, I went to the Command General. He didn't really want to move so I went back to the high command in Baghdad, etc. and I finally got things going. I was helped by an archeological archaeologist in France, a colleague, who gave me very good information as well. And so in the end, we got the sniper off, took a while, too long actually. I also had the help of an officer that, who was in my office from the civil affairs unit, the US civil affairs unit. I told him to go have a look at the site, and to see if the sniper is still there. So he organized a helicopter and helicopters always go by two, because of security reasons. So I managed that, and I sent them to make- yeah, to have a look and make pictures. So when he came back that evening, it was very clear that the sniper was still there. So I called up the local commander, US commander again and said "He's got to get off." and he got a message from the High Command.

Mehiyar 31:52 This was an American sniper?

Rene Teijgeler 31:53 Yeah.

Mehiyar 31:54 But the al-Malwiya, was it also damaged by insurgent attacks?

Rene Teijgeler 32:00 Yeah. If I remember correctly, the insurgents...how do you say, hit the tower? Well, in order to hit the sniper, with artillery, shells, whatever you call it, but don't remember the English word now. Yes. So the proof was there. Later on. I had a discussion again with the French archaeologist colleague. He said, "Why didn't you demand the, that all the troops were leaving the site?" And actually, he was right. I did not. Because I had too little information. And maybe also too little knowledge. I'm not quite sure, maybe both. But the first thing was to get the Sniper off al-Malwiya. Actually when I left on March 5, al-Malwiya was handed over to the Mayor of Samarra. They had a party. And then I think a month later or so the tower was heavily damaged again, by the insurgents.

Mehiyar 33:21 And then, I mean, you, you mentioned some of this in your article, 'Embedded Archaeology: An Exercise in Self-Reflection', in the book "The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq" by Stone, Peter Stone, and Joanne [Farchakh-]Bajjaly with foreword by Robert Fisk, I mean, can I just read something here? You say here, I mean, this is, this is actually going, to regarding Hatra have "We managed to cut the force of the explosions by half and set up a monitoring system on al-Hatra with the help of the University of Mosul." Could you tell us a bit more about Hatra?

Rene Teijgeler 34:07 Well, a depot, an ammunition, a to Saddam ammunition, depot was discovered close to the al-Hatra site, I think 30, 20 kilometers away from it. And the Americans wanted to get rid of it, of course. So they dug big holes, put the ammunition in there and exploded it. Now what happened is because of geological reasons, it was sent, the tremulations, reached al-Hatra site and damaged it. So you saw, a few columns of the Greek-Roman site, very clearly that it was damaged because the people from Mosul University, they sent me the pictures. And actually, the message that this was going on, was done by a Professor of History, who was part of a civil affairs, a US unit. And he noticed that the site was damaged. And he contacted me. And that was very good. So then things started going. Now then I had an- communication with the Lieutenant Colonel, US Lieutenant Colonel, who was probably also involved in the ammunition depot and dismantling it, which was at the US Embassy in the palace, and he started interfering. And, I mean, clearly, this American soldier and me came from different planets. We communicated very badly. We didn't know each other. We didn't understand each other very well. Now, my demand was to find a solution for the, yeah, for the ammunition explosions. ( I have to think, yeah, the right word.) Actually, that was the time, this was already December, I think 2004 and I was going on Christmas leave, my first and only leave actually during the seven months I was in Baghdad. So I told this particular person not to do anything until I was coming back, coming back. What happened? I got a call from the US Embassy when I was back in the Netherlands. And this particular Colonel went to the media and said that everything was okay. So I got all upset. So right away I called the US Embassy and the persons I knew and told the commander, his commander, I think, to get rid of the guy and shut him up, which happened. I never saw him again. Then when I went back to the... to Baghdad again after my my little vacation during Christmas, I checked, actually, I wanted to go to, yeah, I wanted to go to al-Hatra. That was already earlier, sorry for the confusion. It shows you a little bit life at an embassy and working with colleagues. I wanted to see the damage myself and possibly solve the situation as you know, very quickly. And I had this civil affairs unit cooperating with me in the neighborhood of al-Hatra. So I organized a helicopter flight to go over there and discuss things together with the university people from Mosul, they would go to the site as well. So we could discuss the damage and could inventory the damage and see how we could stop that. Now that helicopter in the last moment, the day before I was going to that area, was actually stolen by a junior, the ride was stolen by a junior member of the staff, who I told him that I was going to al-Hatra the next day. This shows you the competition and the unfairness between different members of the staff at the US Embassy. So I never got there, actually that, that convoy that was going, it went through anyway, it was going to al-Hatra, was attacked on the way. So to some extent I was lucky to, because I was not in the convoy and didn't have to, you know, wasn't afraid for my life. How do you say? I escaped. To continue on al-Hatra, the result actually of my interference in al-Hatra, which was damaged by the nearby ammunition depot [of] Saddam, I think it was 20 to 30 kilometers anyway. I did not manage to cut the entire program of explosions of the ammunition depot because we could not move the ammunition, it was too old and too dangerous, so you had to do something with it. But I did manage actually to cut down the explosions by half and at the same time the Mosul University, started monitoring the site and went over there very quickly and installing equipment to measure the tremulations. Because that was the main problem, actually, at al-Hatra, to put up video cameras, and they went over there every once in a while. So that's how far I got. Sometimes you want more, but you know you don't get it. It's very simple. But I was very glad, first of all, to get the Mosul University involved. They were very willing to cooperate. And they really were very good about the site. And well, at least half of the explosions were cut.

Mehiyar 40:57 You mean, half the explosions that were planned?

Rene Teijgeler 41:00 Yeah, that's right.

Mehiyar 41:04 In those in, those three cases, and we've looked at Babylon, Hatra in Nineveh, and the Malwiya. I mean, you say here, in your article, the Embedded Archaeology article, "I realized, I always realized that the military were part of the problem and that they were responsible, at least in part, for the destruction of Iraq's cultural heritage." I mean, this was just general ignorance of cultural heritage, do you think this was the reason? Or do you think it's because of just the presence of the military? It wasn't just the the ignorance, but just the fact that military institutions do not do heritage, do not do history and archaeology? And I mean, you've written this article, the Embedded Archaeology, could you tell us tell us a bit about that? Because obviously, that links in to what the question is about, which is the role of the archaeologist the role of the heritage expert, that you wrote about here. And you write here also several archaeologists refused to go to Iraq. But, but I guess, but I guess your presence was important, because you were there working with the military, or at least working to monitor the US military in particular. I mean, could you tell us about your ideas regarding this, because I think this is an important debate that that wouldn't have happened. But also now-

Rene Teijgeler 42:38 First of all, the invasion in Iraq was illegal. We knew that and actually, my son organized the protest march and a demonstration here in Utrecht, which I joined, actually. So I knew that. I also knew that I would be part of the military machine, if you want to call it that way. So it was, you know, I had that particular responsibility as well. The military were the problem, especially after [Paul] Brehmer, which, of course, was the US Embassy, took these these wrong decisions to get rid of the Baath party members everywhere, and dissolve the army. So throughout my time, the war got worse. Especially the Sunnis, but also the Shiites took arms, took up the arms. So in that sense, the presence of the US Army definitely made things worse. And of course, the three examples you just mentioned, al-Hatra, Samarra, and Babylon are definitely a very direct example of damage caused by the US Army presence, or what they did. But it was clear from the beginning, definitely reading afterwards, on the, on the war in Iraq that it was... the Bush government did not have any attention, uh, intention to take care of a cultural heritage in spite with everything was going on. It's like Renfield, Rumsfeld, the Ministry of Defense said, "Well, shit happens." You know, when they discovered the broken vase of... what was it called?... but anyway, my presence there. I think it was a successful mission. Yes, because first of all, I was Dutch, nobody cared about my presence. Second of all, I had a lot of power, more power than I ever had. I could do things. I was very happy. Now to be happy afterwards doesn't mean that everybody else around you was happy. And I mean not my family here back in the Netherlands but the people back in, in Iraq. When I met the minister later, after I returned, and I met him at some kind of UNESCO meeting, he said, "Well, Rene," when I asked him, you know, what did you think of my presence there? He said, "Well, I never trusted you." I said, "Well, thank you very much." "I say you were from the US Embassy." So I said, "Yeah, okay, I can see that." So, being attached to the US Embassy, although I'm a foreigner, and not, not an American, but not very favorable. Being a military was definitely very favorable. I could never have done the things and especially in al-Hatra, Samarra, and Babylon, without, if I had, if I had been a civil servant. I couldn't reach the military. Although my rank my as an officer was not that high. I was a major. I had a high VIP position, the equivalent of a two star general that told... the ambassador told me, my boss, that helped. So yes, on the one hand, my military position, did help me to get the things done. Later on, how I ended up in the ICC committees of UNESCO was because the Iraqi colleagues requested the UNESCO to put me on the committee, on these committees. Because except for the minister, who didn't, you know, didn't trust me quite well, the other people, especially the SBAH, and the staff, and also, to some extent, the librarians did, acknowledge or did approve of the things I did in Iraq, and that I was an asset to the protection of cultural heritage in Iraq.

Mehiyar 47:19 And in terms of, we're speaking here about the certain, you know, the things you accomplished, or achievements, what would be when looking back now- I mean, it's 18 years now, since the US invasion, I guess, you know, you were there, you know, 2003, 2004, and 2005. So a bit less than that. I mean, I mean, you've had time to self reflect, you've had a significant time to look back at that period, and also in your book, here in your article. And, you know, there's a lot of self reflection. Now, I know you've, you've you've told me you've suffered from, from, from stress, from post traumatic stress, I guess it's very common for a lot of people working in war zones, or conflict or fragile contexts.

Rene Teijgeler 48:20 If I look back at it, first of all, and especially later on, when, with a Syrian colleague, we started Heritage for Peace. I think my presence in Iraq as a military reserve officer, responsible for the safeguarding of cultural heritage at that time, it was successful. Now, the Simek units more or less dissolved in the Netherlands army. It's got different names now. I definitely I would not join the Dutch military at this particular moment. Because the, the goals and the aims of the civil affairs unit has been so inflated within the Dutch army that I definitely would not go with them to do anything. Besides that, two years after Iraq, I joined the military as a cultural, senior cultural adviser to the commander of South Afghanistan, and I was stationed for six months in Kandahar. And that was a total disaster. Because I was so much attached to the military. Although with the highest in command, there's not much I could do. I did not have that freedom, that, that much power. That's why I never wrote about it actually. Because, to me, that mission was a failure. Um, I tried but I did not succeed to do much there. Few things here and there. After I came back, I stayed on for, for, I think a half year, maybe a year and then I quit the army. So, was it worthwhile? Yeah, at that time? Yes. Would I do it again, not within the present conditions. First of all, the Iraq War is a pre mptive war, it was not approved by any international recognized and legal, multilateral organizations such as the UN or the EU. Only afterwards, it was recognized as such. So that is a condition for me now. Which I wrote later, anybody who wants to join the military, as an anthropologist, archaeologist or whatever, it can only be after an approved mission by this, this kind of body. That is at least the first thing you should consider. Second, yeah. So would I do it again, at that time? Yes. Considering the circumstances it worked. Would I do it again? Now, under the certain conditions we have now? No. Is it important for people to join the army? In a heritage position? That depends. First of all, you know, that mission should be approved by the UN, you could join a UN peace mission, why not? What we did prove at the time, is that the heritage community should not wait until everything is destroyed after an armed conflict, and that did change. So, now people, including UNESCO, is convinced that they should interfere during a conflict to safeguard or protect the cultural heritage. That is definitely a change. And maybe it was because I was there in Iraq. Then, as an anthropologist, there's a discussion of an anthropologist joining the army, actually there's a, there's an anthropologist within the Dutch army. I would never go into the army as an anthropologist, because we've seen that famous anthropologists like Margaret Mead, and others, actually went, I think it was Margaret Mead, who went to Vietnam to make an inventory of the tribal areas. And that became part of the operations of war. Now, that is totally ridiculous. There have been a couple of books written about that. And actually, just recently, there appeared in a publication, in a Polish magazine and journal, which is, again, quite a rather conservative, and they're talking about military archaeology. Normally, I would understand military archaeologists [as] the archaeology of military sites in the past. But he makes it equal to 'archaeologist working within the military'. Now, if you discuss this at this moment, with colleagues from the, from the US, and to some extent from UK, is a totally different story. I would not agree with them. They went a different way, which I would not. Then again, would I teach the military? Yes, I would. Blue Shield for example. Definitely Blue Shield, UK, an international centre of people to teach the military how to protect cultural heritage in times of war. Most of them know a little bit about international humanitarian war and some of the international heritage law. So that definitely, yeah, of course, you should share your ideas with anybody. Yeah. When I arrived, apparently there was, I had the availability of $15,000 that was destined to use to buy stolen antiquities. It wasn't much money. And to tell you the truth, I didn't like the program, because if you buy back objects or whatever from antiquities, from the market, in my view at that time, it would stimulate the looting and offering antiquities for sale. Anyway. The general director of the INLA, Saad Eskander, yeah, he asked for the money to, because he was buying back all kinds of archives and books that he knew that came from the library in Amutanabbi-Street and the book market. So there wasn't much and a lot of it he paid out of his own pocket. So I gave part of the money to him, to stimulate him to buy back some of the stolen contents from the, from the library and archives. But when I went back, there was still a lot of money left, I think about $9,000 or something like that. So I didn't quite use much of it. I returned it to the staff at the embassy. Later on, I got into trouble. Because the people back in Washington asked me, where is that money? Well, you have to know that if you read the reports of the controllers, at that time, the inspectorate, you see that a lot of things and a lot of money, especially oil money was stolen, disappeared, fell off the truck, if you, if you want to use that term. And so fortunately, I drew up a paper before I left, handed over the money to this particular person at the staff and had him signed for it. So I could produce that and send it back to Washington so I was in the clear. Another point on, on looting is that on instigation of one member of civil affairs, the lawyer, but what is his name? Anyway, there was an return program for antiquities, that anybody who would return stolen, quotation mark, objects to the museum would not get prosecuted, and would get a return of a certain percentage of the value of the object. And, in that case, the Vase of Warka, one of the earliest surviving, narrative relief sculpture, famous for Iraq was returned. But Donny George told me how that went. And that's a nice story, I think to share with you: is that two boys, two brothers stole that vase from the National Museum. And once they got home with the vase, the mother got very upset. And she said that she didn't agree with it, and that the boys should return that vase to the National Museum, which they refuse to do. And then she told the boys, well, in that case, I'm refusing to take care of you. You cook your own meals, you do your own laundry, etc. And she convinced in that way to the boys to return the vase to the museum. And that was very, very funny. I think it was a good program. I did not much agree with it at the beginning. But it did make a lot of sense, actually, regarding the Iraq Museum and the buyback program, as it is called. Actually Colonel Bogdanos, you know, from the famous book, 'The Thieves of Baghdad', it was his idea to come up with that kind of program. And the question is, how effective was that? And I think I told you earlier that I was not a very proponent, very much a proponent of that program. Because maybe it was too theoretical, but in theory, at least, it would stimulate the market of illicit trade. But I must say in this, in this case, it did work actually. And officially, it's actually called the Amnesty program. Now, I looked up some numbers, through the Amnesty program, 60 of the 40 highly prized stolen artifacts from the public galleries were recovered this way. So just, you know, over 40%, and I'm talking about things like the Vase of Warka, the Mask of Warka, the famous lyre, etc. you know, the music instrument. Most, continuing on this subject is, what was actually stolen. And that was actually why Bogdanos came to the, to Iraq, he was a prosecutor in New York actually. And his job was to make an inventory of the stolen artifacts from the The Iraq Museum and try to get them back. Now he made a division in the different holdings within the museum. So according to, to him, 3,000 artifacts from the above ground rooms was recovered as well, which means two thirds through the amnesty program, and the others were done by seizures. So they were confiscated by the military. From the underground, and that is different storage, only 1/5, of which, 20% was recovered one way or the other. And in general, he continues that roughly 35% of the stolen objects known as of December 2003, were recovered through this particular amnesty program. So in the end, I think it was a very good program. And I told you, one of the stories of the two brothers and how the Vase of Warka returned to the museum. And that was only because of the Amnesty program. Was the Amnesty program open also for archives that were lost or stolen? And was it also opened for things like paintings, which were also stolen at the time? That I actually- I don't know. A lot of the paintings were in private galleries. And we know that from the beginning, actually, just right after the invasion, a lot of paintings were stolen. Just military, just went in and confiscated the paintings, etc. I've seen some of the paintings in the museums. I don't think neither the paintings or the archives were part of that particular program. But I told you earlier that the Embassy gave me $15,000 to do my own buyback program, if you want. And Saad Eskander, the general director of the Archives, the National Archives and Museum and Library, he made use of that, to some extent. So I don't think it was part of what Bogdanos had in mind.

Mehiyar 1:02:34 And why was that? Why was the focus only on the Iraq museum or artifacts, antiquities, rather than the entirety of the cultural objects that were being looted and stolen at the time. We know, for example, that there were thousands of very important, significant art pieces from the Institute of Fine Arts, I believe, which belongs to the Ministry of Culture, that were, that was looted at the time, you know about that. So why was the focus just on the Iraq Museum? Was it because of the international media attention on the Iraq Museum at the time? Or was it just because the US at that time was only concerned of, you know, Iraq Museum objects?

Rene Teijgeler 1:03:20 Well, in general, in the cultural heritage sector, which is not officially but which is my experience is that there is a division, there's a hierarchy within the institutions and also the artifacts. On the top is always the museums. Secondly, secondly, there are the monuments. And then the archaeological sites, and at the bottom are the libraries. And you know, at the most bottom are the archives. So in general, people are more interested in the artifacts stolen from museums, then books stolen from libraries or archives stolen from an archive. Then again, as you said, all the intention, all the attention of the international media, went to the Iraq Museum, and to the archaeological sites. That is what appeared in the media. So everybody thought that that was the worst that could happen. Which was, of course, a terrible thing. But nobody knows that 90% of the photographic collection and the magazine collection of the INLA, the Library and Archives, you know, were plundered or were burned. People are apparently not that much interested in that. In general if you, later my experience is that... Well, they chose to actually within the UNESCO structure, because the culture division of UNESCO is about museums and about archaeological sites to some extent, and to monuments. But libraries and archives is part of the communication and information part of UNESCO so it's not considered culture in that sense. But there is already division within the UNESCO which makes it very difficult. And in all the ICC committees I attended, and the meetings in UNESCO, this difference is always there. Now, the International Federation of Library Associations, the IFLA, and the ICA, the International Council of Archives, are often then not present at those kind of important meetings. For example, the first meeting of the ICC committee on Haiti, my idea was the, to get the government together, meaning to, to collect the archives, which were all distributed all around the ministries in the ruins to collect them and restore them so that the government, you know, would function again. And that just simply did not happen. Because the Americans, which were actually leading the rehabilitation of Haiti after the earthquake, you know, didn't think it was very interesting to do that. So, in general, after my stay in Baghdad, my experience was the same. Nobody really cared about the archives and libraries. And about the fine arts, I don't know. But that's, that's all. Yeah. What I know about it. Who was in charge of the program? Donny George.

Mehiyar 1:07:01 Okay. And how many pieces? Did you, at least within the time you were there, do you remember how many pieces were returned?

Rene Teijgeler 1:07:07 No, I don't know. But there were quite a few. There are numbers on it. Rather substantial, went into the thousands actually. Yeah. And also Donny showed me that there was a lot of funny stuff going on what was stolen from the National Museum. And in fact, it was, relatively speaking, not that much. Because they took very well, very good precautions. They sealed off certain rooms, they hided the entrances to certain departments, hiding in the sense that they build brick walls that, near the entrances were not detectable if you want, that were not to be seen. It was only that, the cuneiform collection was really, totally stolen. And that must have been somebody from the inside. Because the doors were welded, the entrance was very well hidden. And only a few people knew about it. So in that sense, it was probably stolen by somebody who knew, maybe from the staff or whatever. Donny was smart enough, because he was at that time, the head, the Director of the Museum, to take all these precautions. And he even showed me a hidden vault. And it doesn't make sense to tell you where that was. But it was definitely very well hidden and only two or three people knew about it. And that was never the, never discovered. So he was very smart in doing that.