After more than three decades of dedication to books and libraries, Alia Muhammad Baqer, Basra’s famed librarian, died on August 13 of complications from Covid-19. She was 69.
Baqer, who was the chief librarian of Basra’s Central Library, saved an estimated 30,000 books from destruction during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by a coalition of U.S., British and other forces. That was a turning point in Baqer’s life.
Hassan Nadhem, Iraq’s minister of culture, tourism and antiquities, lamented Baqer’s death. “Our sincere condolences to the family of Mrs. Alia Muhammed Baqer, the former chief librarian at the Central Library in Basra,” Nadhem tweeted. “Baqer was a good example of honesty and patriotism during her career. She helped save 30,000 books and manuscripts from being lost during the British forces’ incursion into Basra.”
Saving Basra’s Books
Haunted by stories of the horrors of libraries’ destruction when the Mongols sacked Baghdad in A.D. 1258, Baqer fearfully watched the imminent danger of the 2003 war threatening her library and seaport city in southern Iraq. (See a related article, “Rebuilding Mosul’s Library, Book by Book.”)