Skip to comments.Looting was work of organised traffickers: UNESCO experts
Posted on 04/17/2003 4:13:39 PM PDT by Oldeconomybuyer
PARIS, April 17 (AFP) - Much of the looting of treasures at Iraq's national museum was carried out by organised gangs who traffic in works of ancient art, according to experts at a United Nations conference called on Thursday to examine the war-damage to the country's cultural heritage.
"It looks as if at least part of the theft was a very deliberate, planned action," said McGuire Gibson, of Chicago University's Oriental Institute, who is president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad.
"Probably (it was done) by the same sorts of gangs that have been paying for the destruction of sites in Iraq over the last 12 years and the smuggling out of these objects into the international market," he said.
Looters sacked the National Archaeological Museum in Baghdad last Friday, removing or destroying thousands of artefacts and provoking widespread criticism of the occupying US army for failing to take steps to protect the building.
Among the items lost was a collection of around 80,000 cuneiform tablets that contain examples of the some of the world's earliest writing, Gibson said.
A 5,000 year-old Sumerian alabaster vase -- known as the Warka vase -- also disappeared.
The meeting of 30 international experts at the Paris headquarters of the UN's cultural organisation UNESCO was called to take stock of the damage to Iraq's heritage, recommend ways of safeguarding what remains and act to stop pillaged items reaching the world's art market.
In an address to the meeting, UNESCO director-general Koichiro Matsuura urged US and British forces to set up a "heritage police" to protect Iraq's cultural sites and called on states to adopt legislation to prevent the import of any "cultural, archaeological or bibliographical object having recently left Iraq".
He also announced the creation of a Special Fund for Iraqi Cultural Heritage, to which Italy has already contributed 400,000 dollars (euros).
The meeting ended with agreement to send a fact-finding mission to Iraq as soon as possible to assess the losses.
At a news conference, experts and UNESCO officials admitted their knowledge of the extent of the looting was sketchy. But Gibson said: "Some very important pieces which you would find in any introductory art book have been lost."
In addition to sacking the National Archaeological Museum -- with its unique collection of artefacts dating from the start of civilisation -- looters destroyed the National Archives Centre in Baghdad and burned the National Library burned. A museum in the northern city of Mosul was also looted.
A library of Korans in the religious endowments ministry was set on fire and a collection of 20th century Iraqi figurative art collected by the Gulbenkian museum was destroyed, the UNESCO conference was told.
Eye-witnesses have described some of the looters as being directed by well-dressed men who knew what they wanted to take. Gibson said these organisers had keys to the vaults where they believed the most valued items were kept.
According to Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum in London, some of the most important treasures were relocated in the Iraqi National Bank before the US-British invasion on March 20. And though this too had been looted it was unclear if the artefacts there had been taken.
Traffickers in Iraqi archaeological items have thrived since the 1991 Gulf war thanks to growing international demand and an economic crisis in Iraq which encouraged ordinary people to find innovative new ways to make money, according to experts.
"You could have 300 or 400 people working on just one site," according to Gibson, who said the gang leaders were based abroad and passed orders back to agents in Iraq. These then directed the illegal diggings and smuggled the artefacts out.
Three days after the looting in Baghdad, there were reports that art dealers in Paris and other European cities had already been contacted with offers of stolen items, Gibson said.
Experts said one of the first tasks would be to establish a database of items what had been housed in the National Archaeoligical Museum. It was unclear if the museum's own inventory -- contained in several ledgers -- had survived.
"If you want to destroy the illicit market (in stolen artefacts) there must be a clear database... The level of proof for criminal convictions does presuppose this kind of database," said MacGregor.
Why am I not upset about this?
And how many other sites? If we protected every place that someone considers valuable, there would have been no troops left to do what they went in there to do: liberate Iraq.
Let's be honest: we did not do the looting. It's not our responsibility--that belongs to whoever did it, most likely the Iraqis. They have just looted themselves.
Why? Do you have some emotional attachment to replicas?
But besides that, all of history is worth preserving whether or not one has distaste for certain elements of a culture.
I certainly hope that it's true that professional smugglers got this stuff out, particularly any untranslated tablets. As long as the stuff is still intact, even if it takes 100 years or more, it can be recovered.
" They have stolen the four stones...we are doomed!
Any High Contracting Party in occupation of the whole or part of the territory of another High Contracting Party shall as far as possible support the competent national authorities of the occupied country in safeguarding and preserving its cultural property.
The above is the much ballyhooed Geneva Convention requirement. It leaves plenty of room for military necessity. We clearly met the requirements. If you had read any of the stories on the subject, you would have known that the looting took place over a two day period last week and that during most of this period the enemy were occupying the site and shooting at US soldiers. See stories describing uniforms found in the museum and trenches in the front yard.
How many American lives should have been sacrificed (or risked) to meet your simple-minded admonition?
Don't they teach creative problem solving to officers any more? He could have solved both problems by letting the lions into the museum.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.