Iraqi Archaeologist, Museums Champion Dies at 80

Lamia al-Gailani, an Iraqi archaeologist who lent her expertise to rebuilding the National Museum’s collection after it was looted in 2003, has died at age 80.


Her daughter, Noorah al-Gailani, said Sunday that her mother died Friday in Amman, Jordan. She didn’t give a cause of death.

A devotee of Iraq’s heritage and its museums, al-Gailani selected artifacts to display at the reopening of the National Museum in Bagdad in 2015, more than a decade after it was looted in the wake of the U.S. invasion.


The restored collection included hundreds of cylinder seals, which had been used to print cuneiform impressions and pictographic lore onto documents and surfaces in ancient Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq. The seals were the subject of al-Gailani’s 1977 dissertation at the University of London.


“She was very keen to communicate on the popular level and make archaeology accessible to ordinary people,” said her daughter, who is curator of the Islamic civilizations collection at the Glasgow Museum in Scotland.


Al-Gailani also championed a new museum for antiquities in the city of Basra, which opened in 2016.


But she bore the grief of watching her country’s rich archaeological sites suffer looting and destruction in the years after the U.S. invasion. Thousands of items are still missing from National Museum’s collection.


“I wish it was a nightmare and I could wake up,” she told the BBC in 2015, when Islamic State militants bulldozed relics at the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present-day Mosul.


Born in Baghdad in 1938, al-Gailani was one of the first Iraqi women to excavate in her country.


Fresh from her undergraduate studies at the University of Cambridge in Britain, al-Gailani was hired as a curator at the National Museum in 1960, her daughter said. It was al-Gailani’s first job in archaeology.


She returned to Britain in 1970 to pursue advanced studies, and she made her home there. Still, she kept returning to her native country, connecting foreign academics with an Iraqi archaeological community that was struggling under the isolation of Saddam Hussein’s autocratic rule and the U.N. sanctions against him.


In 1999, she published “The First Arabs,” in Arabic, with the Iraqi archaeologist Salim al-Alusi, on the earliest traces of Arab culture in Mesopotamia, in the 6th through 9th centuries.


She would bring copies of the book with her to Baghdad and sell them through a vendor on Mutanabbi Street, the literary heart of the capital, her daughter said.


After the U.S. invasion, al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war.


At the time of her death, she was working with the Basra Museum to curate a new exhibit set to open in March, said Qahtan al-Abeed, the museum director.


“She hand-picked the cylinder seals to display at the museum,” said al-Abeed.


A ceremony will be held for al-Gailani at the National Museum on Monday. She is survived by her three daughters.



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Voice of America

Ex-Nissan Chairman Ghosn Asks for Bail, Promises Not to Flee

Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn on Monday asked for his release on bail from a two-month detention in Japan, promising he will report to prosecutors daily and wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet.

“As the court considers my bail application, I want to emphasize that I will reside in Japan and respect any and all bail conditions the court concludes are warranted,” he said in a statement shared with The Associated Press through a representative of Ghosn and his family.

“I am not guilty of the charges against me and I look forward to defending my reputation in the courtroom; nothing is more important to me or to my family,” he said.

Ghosn, 64, and in custody since his Nov. 19 arrest, is due for a bail hearing Monday after his bail request was denied by a Tokyo court last week.

His latest request includes a lease for a Tokyo apartment, where he promises to live. The offer to wear a monitoring device is not standard for Japanese bail but is often included in U.S. bail conditions. No trial date has been set.

In Japan, suspects are often kept in detention until trials start, especially those who assert innocence, in what’s criticized as “hostage justice.” Tokyo prosecutors say Ghosn is a flight risk and may tamper with evidence. Legal experts, including Ghosn’s lawyers, say preparations for trials as complex as Ghosn’s take six months or longer.

Ghosn is also promising to give up his passport and hire security guards acceptable to prosecutors that he would pay for.

He has been charged with falsifying financial reports in underreporting his compensation from Nissan Motor Co., and breach of trust in having Nissan shoulder investment losses and pay a Saudi businessman.

Ghosn has asserted his innocence, saying the compensation was never decided, Nissan never suffered losses and the payments were for legitimate services for Nissan’s business in the Gulf.

He has been held in austere conditions at the Tokyo Detention Center, allowed visits only by embassy officials, lawyers and prosecutors. His wife, Carole Ghosn, has expressed worries about his health and appealed to Human Rights Watch about what she saw as his unfair and harsh treatment.   

Ghosn led Nissan for two decades, turning it around from near-bankruptcy to one of the world’s biggest and most successful auto groups. A Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry, with work experience in the U.S., Ghosn was admired internationally for his managerial skills. He was sent in 1999 by Renault SA of France, which owns 43 percent of Nissan.

Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa has denounced Ghosn, accusing him of using company money and assets for personal gain. But Nissan’s oversight has raised serious questions about governance at the automaker behind the Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models.      

Nissan’s internal investigation found Nissan purchased homes and furnishings for Ghosn in Lebanon and Brazil, but only a handful of people at Nissan knew, according to people familiar with the probe. Nissan still owns the homes.     

The latest development in the investigation was discussed by the board of Nissan’s Japanese alliance partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp. last week, centering on millions of dollars of salary and bonus pay to Ghosn by the automakers’ joint venture in Amsterdam last year, which neither Mitsubishi nor Nissan knew about.

No charges have been filed on these payments, which are separate from the compensation from Nissan cited in the charges already filed.

Ghosn’s compensation was long a sticking point in Japan, where the income difference between executives and workers is so minimal that company presidents are also called “salarymen.” Ghosn has said he deserved pay comparable to other star leaders of global companies.             

Ghosn defended his record at Nissan at a Tokyo court earlier this month.

“I have a genuine love and appreciation for Nissan. I believe strongly that in all of my efforts on behalf of the company, I have acted honorably, legally, and with the knowledge and approval of the appropriate executives inside the company,” he said. 


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Voice of America

Top US Senator Questions Afghan Withdrawal Numbers

An influential Unites States senator who is considered to be close to President Donald Trump cast doubts on reports that half of the United States troops in Afghanistan would be withdrawn soon.


“I’ve had no evidence that there’s been a number like that at all.  I don’t believe that report’s accurate,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham Sunday in Islamabad, where he was talking to journalists during a trip to the country.


The New York Times reported in December that Trump had ordered the military to withdraw almost 7,000 troops from Afghanistan.  The White House has not denied the reports.  According to The Washington Post, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigned over disagreements with the president on troop withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan.


The news of withdrawal sent shock waves in the region at a time when the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad was trying hard to move negotiations with Taliban forward.


Khalilzad ended a four-day visit to Pakistan Sunday, after the Afghan Taliban seemingly refused to meet with the American team, despite reported efforts from host country Pakistan.  Talks with the Taliban have dead-locked over the issue of involving the Kabul government in the negotiations.  The Taliban call the Kabul regime a “puppet” of the Americans and have never accepted it as a legitimate government.


Graham reiterated the war in Afghanistan needs a political solution and suggested a meeting “sooner rather than later” between Trump and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to find a resolution to the Afghan conflict.


“I’m going urge him to meet with prime minister [Khan] as soon as practical.  I think they will hit it off.  Similar personalities,” Graham said.

Trust deficit

Graham also blamed Pakistani hesitance to fully cooperate with the Americans on the “terrible” trust deficit between the two countries.


“The day Pakistan sees us as a more reliable strategic partner, the day they’ll do more,” he said.


The United States has long complained Pakistan provides sanctuaries to the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, a charge Islamabad denies.  It has also long claimed Islamabad could do more to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations.


In recent months, several U.S. officials have indicated Pakistan appeared to be trying to help resolve the Afghan issue, but added they were cautious in their optimism due to what they called a history of duplicity.


Khalilzad’s tweet at the end of his trip credited Pakistan for pushing to resolve the Afghan conflict.


“We’re heading in the right direction with more steps by Pakistan coming that will lead to concrete results,” he tweeted.


Graham also seemed optimistic that things were improving, crediting the change to Pakistan military’s efforts to deal with the threat of terrorism, plans to integrate the lawless tribal areas into mainstream Pakistan, and a new prime minister in office that he thought could be a “partner” in a “beneficial relationship.”


“I don’t want to oversell, but it’s time to realize things have changed,” he said, adding that he would suggest to his colleagues in Congress to stop “stereotyping.”


Graham, who has been to Pakistan dozens of times, also said he saw the country as a “good market” for American products and wanted the relationship to move beyond security-related issues.

But on Sunday, he said, “Nancy, I am still thinking about the State of the Union speech, there are so many options – including doing it as per your written offer (made during the shutdown, security is no problem), and my written acceptance.  While a contract is a contract, I’ll get back to you soon!”  


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