- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Antiquities
experts, dismayed that U.S. officials failed to heed their warnings to
protect Baghdad's historic artifacts during the war, said on Monday they
were concerned the priceless treasures looted from Iraq's main museum may
never be recovered.
- U.S. archeological organizations and the U.N.'s cultural
agency UNESCO said they had provided U.S. officials with information about
Iraq's cultural heritage and archeological sites months before the war
- University of Chicago professor McGuire Gibson was among
a group that met Pentagon officials several times and presented them with
a list of archeological and other sites that should be protected, particularly
the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad.
- "We warned them about looting at the very beginning,"
said the archeologist who has worked extensively in the region. "I
was assured it would be secured."
- Now, he said, the loss was immeasurable.
- "The Baghdad museum is the equivalent of the Cairo
Museum. It would be like having American soldiers 200 feet outside the
Cairo museum watching people carry away treasures from King Tut's tomb
or carting away mummies," said Gibson.
- The museum, which housed key artifacts of ancient Mesopotamia,
which was among the earliest civilizations, was ransacked and its contents
taken or destroyed in a wave of looting that has swept the Iraqi capital
since the collapse of President Saddam Hussein's rule last week.
- UNESCO's deputy director, Mounir Bouchenaki, said on
Monday leading archeologists will meet in Paris on Thursday to seek ways
to rescue Iraq's cultural heritage. They also plan a fact-finding mission
- Iraq's ancient dynasties, a cradle of civilization that
existed long before the Egyptian, Greek or Roman empires, created the world's
earliest forms of writings and built the first major cities of Nineveh,
Nimrud and Babylon.
- Gibson likened the museum's destruction to that of the
famed library founded by Alexander the Great in Egypt that was destroyed
more than two thousand years ago.
- Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters the United
States was concerned about the looting at the museum and was working to
secure the facility.
- "The United States understands its obligations and
will be taking a leading role with respect to antiquities in general but
this museum in particular," he said.
- CUNEIFORM TABLETS ON EBAY?
- Powell said the U.S. would work with UNESCO, which earlier
urged the U.S. and Britain to take immediate steps to protect and preserve
a heritage considered to be "one of the richest in the world."
- A 1954 Hague Convention mandates protection of cultural
property during conflict, an international group of archeologists and antiquities
experts warned before the war. While Iraq had ratified the convention,
the United States and Britain, both partners in the war in Iraq, have not.
- Of the more than 170,000 objects in the museum were treasures
like an alabaster Uruk Vase that dates back to 3500 B.C., Gibson said.
- The museum also held tablets of cuneiform writing that
still had to be translated.
- "We understand most of the best pieces are gone,"
said the Archeological Institute for America's Patty Gerstenblith, adding
she heard looters cut off heads of larger statues that could not be moved.
- Some items have already reportedly shown up for sale
in Paris, Gibson said. Two markets for the items would exist: collectors
willing to pay millions for the high-end items and others who would pay
much less for smaller items like pottery.
- "Average kind of pottery could well sell on (the
Internet auction site) eBay for like $20 or $50," Gerstenblith said,
adding small pieces have been smuggled out of Iraq during the U.S. economic
- Experts are trying to set up a Web site to provide a
catalog of what was in the museum in Baghdad and Gerstenblith said they
were appealing to the White House to take emergency measures to order troops
to be on the lookout for artifacts.
- In the meantime, the loss of objects with not only historical
and cultural, but scientific and religious value, was devastating, Gerstenblith,
a DePaul University professor said:
- "We have allowed to be destroyed not only our own
heritage but the heritage of future generations."