The Iraq Memory Foundation, Baath Party Archive & Wartime Plundering of Cultural Property

University of Colorado professor, Bruce P. Montgomery shares with AW a revealing journal publication he has authored.  It is an excellent study on the question of territorial provenance, ownership, and custody.  In it Montgomery looks in depth at the unique dynamics between the Iraq Memory Foundation (IMF), the US military, and the long-held contentious cultural property of Iraq in the hands of private US institutions.  Cultural property in the form of the former Iraqi government’s archives, the Baath Party Archive, normally fall into a category of state records that should be opened to citizens “‘in service of transitional justice, national reconciliation, and democratization'” as seen with the former Stasi regime archive, the Tuol Sleng Archives, inter alia.

Montgomery purports that through the extenuating circumstances of wartime Iraq in 2003 (as the emergence of civilian defense contractors under the US military like the IMF) and through a lack of legal frameworks, the IMF was able to evade direct contraventions to existing international laws and conventions that define cultural property theft or pillaging when the group transferred records out of Iraq.  Montgomery reveals that the legal status of contractors can be considered ambiguous at best because they ostensibly operated outside legal mechanisms. He presents arguments that the IMF, in the backdrop of this largely chaotic and tumultuous period for Iraqi citizens and the Hussein government, was able to leverage the situation to their advantage, circumventing legal protocols to transfer the Iraqi documents.  Consequently, the archives are not accessible to the citizens who could benefit from its use.  Thus, the circumstances surrounding the current fate of the archives has also been a barrier to legitimizing straightforward accusations of wartime pillaging of records.

Montgomery also traces the actions of various cultural and national institutions, non-government groups, and key officials in securing the country’s archives and the laws ensuring its possession.  He also outlines relevant international laws and conventions alongside the case – the Hague, Geneva, and UN conventions…

Read publication

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