Umma Foundation

The 2003 Iraq War led to massive destruction of an important part of Iraq’s extraordinary wealth – it’s archaeological history.  We were on the ground during those years in the most difficult parts of Iraq, the remote deserts north of Nasiriyah, working with local Iraqis and tribal leaders to try to find ways to protect the sites.

We have remained committed to Iraq, providing assistance to Iraqi archaeologists and scholars, and participating in site protection in the south. We plan to expand our efforts to Afghanistan and southeastern Turkey, where cultural history is imperiled by ongoing conflict.

Umma was founded in 2010 to consolidate and sustain these efforts. Our foundation is named after one of the most important Sumerian sites in southern Iraq that was destroyed by looters following the 2003 occupation of Iraq.


Micah Garen studied archaeology and Assyriology before becoming a documentary filmmaker and journalist in 2000, founding Four Corners Media with Marie-Hélène Carleton. News of the tragic looting in 2003 brought him to Iraq, where he worked for six months on a documentary film about the issue. In August 2004, while finishing the film, he and his interpreter, Amir Doshi, were kidnapped and held for ten days. He chronicled that journey in the memoir, American Hostage, published by Simon and Schuster in 2005. He is currently finishing the film, The Road to Nasiriyah, about the looting of archaeological sites in southern Iraq. He founded Umma in 2010 with Marie-Hélène Carleton.
His filming has appeared in the New York Times, APTN, PBS and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11, which won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

His online documentary, Deep Divide, published in the Financial Times Magazine and FT online was a 2009 Webby Honoree. His writing and photography has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, among others.
He is co-author, with Marie-Hélène Carleton, of the dual memoir, American Hostage, published by Simon and Schuster in 2005. He was profiled by CBS Sunday Morning in 2006, and the show was nominated for an Emmy award. He has been interviewed regularly on NPR, CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC as an expert on Iraq and his experience as a hostage. He is a graduate of Cornell University, and a member of the PEN American Center and the Overseas Press Club. He has received fellowships and grants from the MacDowell Colony and the Ucross Foundation, Wider Film Projects and the Carr Foundation for his work.


Marie-Hélène Carleton studied international affairs and literature, before moving to New York and co-founding Four Corners Media with Micah Garen. Born in Lebanon to parents who worked for the UN, she has dedicated herself for the past ten years to journalism and documentary film, telling stories from war-torn countries including southeastern Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. She founded Umma in 2010 with Micah Garen.
Her film work has appeared in The New York Times, and her online documentary that appeared in the Financial Times Magazine, Deep Divide, was a 2009 Webby Honoree. Her writing and photography has been published in The New York Times and the Financial Times. She is co-author of the memoir American Hostage, published by Simon and Schuster 2005, which received starred reviews in Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly.

Her writing and photography has also appeared in the anthologies, The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, published by Abrams, and Water Culture. With Micah Garen, she has been profiled on CBS Sunday Morning, which was an Emmy Nominee, and been interviewed on NPR, Good Morning America, Hardball, and others. She received a graduate degree from SAIS at Johns Hopkins, and her bachelors degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. She is a member of the PEN American Center and the Overseas Press Club, and has been awarded artist fellowships at the MacDowell Colony and Ucross Foundation. Marie-Hélène participated in the 2009 Jeremy Deller exhibit about the Iraq war, It Is What It Is, at The New Museum in New York City.