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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the May 28, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Where did all the treasures go? A looting update.

Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of Unesco (the U.N.

cultural agency), surprised many when he announced in April that the

market in the illicit trafficking of cultural goods is enormous. "At

an estimated $5 billion per year, it is probably second only to the

annual estimated amount involved in the trafficking of drugs,"

he said.

In the wake of the heavy losses to Iraq’s cultural treasures, notably

in Baghdad, Mosul, and Tikrit, 30 leading experts met almost immediately,

on April 17, at Unesco’s Paris headquarters to begin surveying the

Iraq war damage. The question on everyone’s mind was why the museum

was not protected when coalition troops entered Baghdad.

Donny George, director of research at the Baghdad Museum, told a follow-up

meeting at the British Museum on April 29 that he considered the damage

not just a loss to the Iraqi people but to the whole of mankind.

"The looting was the crime of the century," he told representatives

of the world’s leading museums.

The U.S. took action and on Friday, May 16, Marine Colonel Matthew

Bogdanos, leader of a team of military and civilian investigators

of the Baghdad Museum loss and recovery efforts, told a Department

of Defense briefing that "the originally reported number of 170,000

was a gross, if dramatic, exaggeration.

"The staff had previously emptied the display cases, thus, of

the 451 display cases in the galleries themselves, only 28 were broken.

Many artifacts were moved to other locations, while larger statues

and friezes were left on the gallery floor, either covered with foam

padding or laid on their sides. Of these, 42 pieces or exhibits were

stolen," he said.

Of these original 42 pieces or exhibits, nine were recovered in the

first 25 days of the investigation, he reported; just 33 are still

missing. The most "notable and lamentable" losses, in the

team’s opinion, are the Sumerian Sacred Vase of Warka from 3000 B.C.,

and the Bisetti Statue from 2300 B.C. In addition, 15 other pieces

were damaged, notably, the Golden Harp of Ur (although its golden

head had previously been removed to a bank vault).

Since other news sources report "more than 600 pieces from the

museum have been recovered of the thousands estimated to have been

stolen," it is unclear whether "42 pieces or exhibits"

were Baghdad’s only major losses.

Bogdanos did confirm the rumor that distressed museum staffers had

hidden some art works at a secret location, not yet revealed to museum

professionals or investigators — to be revealed only upon the

installation of a new Iraqi government. "Members of the museum

staff have told us that they have sworn on the Koran not to reveal

the location of that secret place," he said.


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