I can't go into details of my interview of Dr. George today as I promised it to Minerva*, but I will say that I have changed my mind about the man completely. He had solid answers for every question, and the evidence he showed during his lecture clarified a lot of issues I had had with press reports about the looting of the Iraq Museum. There is nothing more that he could have done to safeguard the Museum, and the Americans had other priorities. And the worst 'evidence' I was given against him was frankly rather silly. There is propaganda on both sides.
I wanted to clarify at the start of the interview that I had different views (Conservative, not a fan of the war, dubious about press coverage), but Dr. George was already aware of them, and said he thought that if I had all the facts I would agree with him. I'm used to a different mentality from the Greeks, but his strategy worked. Most people thought I was charm-proof, but the man is brilliant and came across as being honest and deeply committed to Iraq and Iraqi archaeology. I was very impressed with all the work he is continuing to do for Iraqi archaeology, still collaborating with those now in charge, and that he has maintained friendly relations with his successors, contrary to press reports. They all want to do their best for Iraqi archaeology rather than get involved in politics. I've hugely miss-judged the man, and apologise for it. I'm often surprised how little some American officials I meet know about Islam/Muslim culture or the Middle East. If the State Department and Pentagon have any sense, they'll get Dr. George to advise them.
The truth is that when I was offered the opportunity to work in a war zone, I declined. I was a coward, and that makes me a hypocrite for criticising those who did work through one to try to save our cultural heritage. I'm not exactly the world's greatest field archaeologist, so if I was asked, I imagine many were asked before me. Almost all of them also declined, and are now critics of the American efforts, and in general like to complain.
People keep asking how to get in touch (re. the earlier appeal by Dr. Al-Hussainy) or where to send help. I've suggested via UNESCO or the British Museum*, but asked Dr. George for his advice. Dr. George said that sending items care of the cultural section of the US Embassy in Baghdad would be a very good place (contact details here). He does not think that for the moment foreign field archaeologists coming to excavate would be a good idea.
The Iraqi Museum had one of the best libraries in the region, but that was relative, and they have blanks in their holdings over the last thirty years. Part of the plan has been to train a new generation of archaeologists to care for the Iraqi cultural heritage, so if any journals/ universities/ individuals would like to help contribute to their education, books would be a positive, small scale, place to start.
* Anything not used, I might use elsewhere as he had a lot of interesting things to say, and they are all worth hearing. I've also offered him a transcript of the tapes, to make sure they are accurate.
* I would rather not post contact details on the Internet, but am happy to forward emails to people at the BM or UNESCO.