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NOW on the News with Maria Hinojosa

Saad Eskander on Rebuilding Iraq

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The Iraqi National Library and Archives was looted and burned during the 2003 U.S. invasion.
The Iraqi National Library and Archives was looted and burned during the 2003 U.S. invasion. View more photos of the library before and after its reconstruction.
This week, Maria Hinojosa speaks with Saad Eskander, the Director of the Iraqi National Library and Archives, about the painstaking struggles he faced rebuilding a looted and burned library after the U.S. invasion in 2003. Eskander, who returned to Iraq after the war started, talks about how a modern, fully-staffed library was able to emerge under his leadership, and the dangerous challenges that remain.

Interview Excerpts

"I introduced some changes in the administration of the National Library. We have elections to elect representatives of the librarians and archivists. We have a women's society that defends women's rights and we celebrate all the national holidays. We are trying to be an example to be followed by others."

"What I first did was to change the culture inside the National Library and Archive. In the past the dominant culture was a culture of taking orders. I changed that and tried a culture of taking initiatives ... I started to democratize the process of decision making and make everybody involved in the rebuilding of the library."

The rebuilt National Library and Archives in Baghdad opened in December 2006.
The rebuilt National Library and Archives in Baghdad opened in December 2006.
"When I get home I forget all the bad things [that] happen in the National Library like the killing of my staff. So I have to be strong, I have to be adaptive, I have to be optimistic."

"If the U.S. and British withdraw their forces from Iraq, the extremists - Shiite extremists and Sunni extremists - will prevail ... Iraq will be a fundamentalist state and will be a world threat and will affect the interests of all countries, especially Western countries."

"When I was appointed director general, I faced a lot of problems from the Americans when I wanted to show different policy or adapt different views from theirs. They wanted to dictate and not to listen or to negotiate. That was the biggest mistake made by the Americans in Iraq."

About Saad Eskander

Saad Eskander has served as the Director of the Iraqi National Library and Archives in Baghdad since 2003.

Eskander was born in Baghdad, but left in 1981 to join the Kurdish Resistance Movement, living for four years in the mountains of Northern Iraq. From 1986 to 1990, he lived in Iran and later spent six months in Syria.

In 1990, Eskander immigrated to Britain where he earned his B.A. in modern history from the University of North London. He later completed an M.A. and a doctorate in international relations and history from the London School of Economics.

Eskander has published several books and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Baghdad with his wife and ten month-old son.

Excerpt: Saad Eskander's Diary

Monday, March 5, 2007

Tens of thousands of papers were flying high, as if the sky was raining books, tears and blood.
A huge explosion shook the INLA's building around 11.35. We, the three of us, ran to the nearest window, and we saw a big and thick grey smoke rising from the direction of al-Mutanabi Street, which is less than 500 meter away from the INLA. I learnt later that the explosion was a result of a car bomb attack. Tens of thousands of papers were flying high, as if the sky was raining books, tears and blood. The view was surreal. Some of the papers were burning in the sky. Many burning pieces of papers fell on the INLA's building. Al-Mutanabi Street is named after one of the greatest Arab poets, who lived in Iraq in the middle ages.

The Street is one of well-known areas of Baghdad and where many publishing houses, printing companies and bookstores have their main offices and storages. Its old cafes are the most favorite place for the impoverished intellectuals, who get their inspirations and ideas form this very old quarter of Baghdad. The Street is also famous for its Friday's book market, where secondhand, new and rear books are sold and purchased.

The INLA purchases about 95% of new publications from al-Mutanabi Street. I also buy my own books from the same street. It was extremely sad to learn that a number of the publishers and book sellers, whom we knew very well, were among the dead, including Mr. Adnan, who was supposed to deliver a consignment of new publications to the INLA. According to an early estimation, more than 30 people were killed and 100 more injured. Four brothers were killed in their office.

Immediately after the explosion, I ordered the guards to prevent all my staff from leaving the building, as there was a possibility of another bomb attack. My staff and I were watching the movement of a number civilian and military ambulances, carrying killed and injured people. It was a heartbreaking view.

Eskander's complete diary is maintained by The British Library

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