Region | Iraq

Historian resigns amid claims of fundamentalism

Iraq's top archaeologist, a Christian, said he fled to Syria after Shiite fundamentalists interfered in his job and family members received threats.

  • AP
  • Published: 00:00 August 31, 2006
  • Gulf News

Damascus: Iraq's top archaeologist, a Christian, said he fled to Syria after Shiite fundamentalists interfered in his job and family members received threats.

In an interview in Damascus, Donny George, director of Iraq's National Museum, said he was living in the Sunni-dominated southern Baghdad neighbourhood of Dora, which has become a hotbed of militancy and sectarian violence.

He said at least 13 Christians in the neighbourhood, including his 19-year-old son, have received death threats.

George, one of the country's most respected archaeologists, also said he quit his job in a veiled retirement after the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities allegedly repeatedly interfered in his duties.

"I began to feel very pressured," George told AP. "I filed for retirement ... and was informed that it was accepted."

He added that the ministry has come under the influence of the Mehdi Army of cleric Moqtada Al Sadr. The "new officials", he said, came to power due to the new political system in Iraq that has distributed Cabinet jobs based on religious sects and not on merit or expertise.

In Baghdad, Haider Farhan, a senior official at the ministry, said George's departure was a regular retirement after three decades of service.

"We are surprised by his remarks about working under pressure," he said. "That is completely baseless."

George is known for his efforts in chasing the priceless antiquities looted from Iraq amid the chaos of the 2003 US-led invasion. The country's museums were pillaged of treasures dating back 5,000 years.

Of the 15,000 objects stolen from the museum, almost 4,000 had been returned to the country. But due to the security situation, more than 4,000 others are being kept in neighbouring countries for safekeeping, George said.

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