Experts: Looters Had Keys to Iraqi Vaults


Richard Moore

Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2003 23:11:19 -0600
From: "GlobalCirclenet" <•••@••.•••>
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: Experts: Looters Had Keys to Iraqi Vaults

One of those little noticed items that may fill in some
of the blanks, thought you might want to see this paul


Thu Apr 17,12:04 PM ET
By JOCELYN GECKER, Associated Press Writer

PARIS - Some of the looters who ravaged Iraqi
antiquities appeared highly organized and even had keys
to museum vaults and were able to take pieces from
safes, experts said Thursday at an international

One expert said he suspected the looting was organized
outside the country.

The U.N. cultural agency gathered some 30 art experts
and cultural historians in Paris on Thursday to assess
the damage to Iraqi museums and libraries looted in the
aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion.

Although much of the looting was haphazard, experts
said some of the thieves clearly knew what they were
looking for and where to find it, suggesting they were
prepared professionals.

"It looks as if part of the looting was a deliberate
planned action," said McGuire Gibson, a University of
Chicago professor and president of the American
Association for Research in Baghdad. "They were able to
take keys for vaults and were able to take out
important Mesopotamian materials put in safes."

"I have a suspicion it was organized outside the
country, in fact I'm pretty sure it was," Gibson said.
He added that if a good police team was put together,
"I think it could be cracked in no time."

Cultural experts, curators and law enforcement
officials are scrambling to both track down the missing
antiquities and prevent further looting of the

The pillaging has ravaged the irreplaceable Babylonian,
Sumerian and Assyrian collections that chronicled
ancient civilization in Mesopotamia, and the losses
have triggered an impassioned outcry in cultural

Many fear the stolen artifacts have been absorbed into
highly organized trafficking rings that ferry the goods
through a series of middlemen to collectors in Europe,
the United States and Japan.

Officials at the UNESCO (news - web sites) meeting at
its headquarters in Paris said the information was
still too sketchy to determine exactly what was missing
and how many items were unaccounted for.

The experts, which included Iraqi art officials, said
some of the most valuable pieces had been placed in the
vault of the national bank after the 1991 Gulf War
(news - web sites), but they had no information on
whether the items were still there.

At U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar, officials said
they weren't aware of the reports of organized looting
and couldn't comment.

"I have no knowledge of what looters used to get access
to the museums, but it was a terrible loss to all of
humanity, and we are working with the Iraqi people to
find those responsible," said a spokesman, Navy Lt.
Herb Josey.

Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of the U.N.
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,
began the meeting Thursday by calling for a U.N.
resolution imposing a temporary embargo on trade in
Iraqi antiquities.

Matsuura said it was urgent to repair the antiquities
that remain and to keep them from the hands of those
who traffic in the lucrative market of stolen objects.

"It is always difficult, when communities are facing
the consequences of an armed conflict ... to plead the
case for preservation of the cultural heritage,"
Matsuura said.

Matsuura said he would ask U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan (news - web sites) to seek a resolution against
illicit trafficking that would also impose an embargo
"for a limited period" on the acquisition of Iraqi
cultural objects. Such a resolution would also call for
the return of such items to Iraq (news - web sites), he

In addition, Matsuura said the establishment of a
nationwide "heritage police" was necessary to watch
over cultural sites and institutions. Such a force
could be set up by "the authorities on the ground," an
apparent reference to U.S. and British forces in

"To preserve the Iraqi cultural heritage is, in a word,
to enable Iraq to successfully make its transition to a
new, free and prosperous society," he said.

He reiterated a call for governments to adopt emergency
legal and administrative measures to prevent anyone's
importing objects from Iraq and to museums and art
dealers to refuse transactions in such objects.

A database of all cultural objects needs to be quickly
established so police, museums, customs authorities can
act against any traffickers, he said.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press.
Copyright © 2003 Yahoo! Inc


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