I just sat in a room full of Poli Sci type academics and I don’t know how many of them even thought twice about how shocking the US plunder of Iraqi history has been. I attended a lunch seminar presentation from a Stanford professor on her findings drawn from a repository of Iraqi Ba’ath Party archives that were literally captured and taken wholesale by US forces during the 2003 invasion and brought to the United States and never returned. Which is what happened to precious historical thousand year old artifacts, and documents on Iraqi Jewish history and heritage as well.
Against the condemnation of Iraqi, American and Canadian archivists, that this history belongs to the Iraqi people, I learned that this vast repository on the Baath regime is stored in only three places: the US government, the Hoover Institute at Stanford University…and fucking Kenan Makiya’s house here in Cambridge. The information in those files is actually really important. They shed light on the vast documentation conducted by the Ba’ath regime to gauge the loyalties of Shias and Kurds from the 80’s, during the Iran-Iraq war, during the 1991-1992 uprising, and into the 90’s. So why can’t they be returned to the Iraqi people? The professor repeated Makiya’s claim that Iraq was too “volatile” to give those archives back, and even thought to let us in on the fact that when you visit Makiya’s home, all the digitized files are on top of his fireplace.
Apparently it’s not “volatile” or “risky” to preside over and broadcast the public hanging of the head of the Ba’ath regime. It’s just “risky” to hand over the archives of that regime to the Iraqi people. She kept referring to Saddam era Iraq with statements like “During authoritarian Iraq” or “In authoritarian Iraq”, as though what we have today after a decade of brutal occupation is a “free Iraq”. She suggested her data analysis showed the sanctions weakened the Baathist regime, and Sunni civil servants, as though the humanitarian disaster of the sanctions didn’t strangle the entire population, and kill 500,000 children, as though to suggest that sanctions were defensible and correct US policy. There were also chuckles in some corners when she described some of Saddam’s jokes about his brutal punishment of draft dodgers, the kind of comfortable victory chuckle that reassures the occupier that their war was justified.
The Iraq Memory Foundation is a total fraud, another act of imperial robbery of the Iraqi people. Those archives belong in Iraq. But the Foundation itself, it seems to me, serves two purposes in the imperial nation: That of stealing the history of the Iraqi people, and thereby their sovereignty, and also, by calling it the “Iraq Memory” Foundation, it erases the entire history of Iraqi politics and history to reduce it to the Saddam era. It justifies the invasion and occupation of Iraq, because if the Iraqi people didn’t already have a proud history and memory of resistance and revolutionary struggle, of the fight against sectarianism and anti-Semitism, of uprisings, of once the largest Communist Party in the Middle East, it must be that the United States government was justified to bomb their country to the Stone Ages and bring them down on their knees for freedom and democracy.
It was just a reminder of how repulsive these poli sci/international relations circles can be, how academic institutions are so tied to imperialism, and why we can’t ignore or dismiss any struggles in academia whether around labor, free speech, divestment, or ideology.