Iraq National Library Director Resists Military Intrusions

from the BCALA listerv:

Saad Eskander, director of the Iraq National Library and Archive in
Baghdad, issued a plea to the international library community August 9
for support in his efforts to resist the unlawful entry of Iraqi
national guard troops, which, he believes, endangers the INLA's staff
and collections. According to Eskander, a group of guards forced their
way into the main building August 8 as the government declared a
four-day curfew, which kept the director in his home.


British Library Board Secretary Andy Stephens circulated an
e-mail
message from Eskander the day after the forced entry. "I need all the
support I can get from around the world," Eskander said. Urging Stephens
to alert British newspapers to his situation, he described what had
occurred.

"This morning, August 8, a group of Iraqi national guard has broken
into the National Library and Archive's main building. By this action,
the national guards have violated the instructions of the Council of
Ministers, which clearly assert that Iraqi security and armed forces
cannot enter any state-run institution without a prior approval of the
government and the concerned authorities," Eskander said. "I talked to
the commander of the national guards by phone, asking him politely to
leave the building immediately. He refused to consider the idea of
evacuating the building, claiming that he had orders from his superiors
and the Americans to occupy the INLA. He justified his action by
claiming that the national guards wanted to protect Shi'i visitors of
the holy shrines of al-Kadhimiyah, which is 30 km away from the INLA!"

Eskander went on to point out that on August 6 a U.S. military patrol
had also entered the library without his permission. "The commander of
the patrol interrogated the INLA's guards and ordered them to show their
IDs," Eskander said, noting that "this was not the first time in which
U.S. patrols entered the INLA without my permission. In July, U.S.
soldiers entered the INLA three times. It seems clear to me that the
actions of U.S. soldiers have encouraged Iraqi national guards to do the
same, i.e., entering and then occupying the building by force."

"My staff and I have spent a lot of time and efforts on the
reconstruction of the INLA after it was destroyed in mid-April 2003,"
Eskander said. "The reckless actions of U.S. Army and the Iraqi National
Guards will put the INLA's staff and library and archival collections in
real danger. I hold both U.S. Army and the Iraqi National Guards
responsible for all future material damages, cultural losses, and human
casualties."

American Libraries interviewed Eskander in April about his struggle to
return the National Library to some semblance of normalcy. The British
Library has been posting his diary blog since the end of 2006.
"Eskander's blog provides cogent and unmediated witness to the perilous
and tragic conditions that the Iraq National Library and Archive and its
staff are operating under," said Stephens.

An August 9 Associated Press story noted Eskander's position that while
"it is not uncommon for American and Iraqi forces to temporarily
commandeer houses and buildings for use as rest stops or lookout posts
during military operations," the library and archives "should be exempt
from such activities, since it is a repo
sitory for the national
heritage."

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