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Looters Steal Priceless Iraqi Artifacts Posted:04.14.03
Largely unstopped by U.S. troops, looters pillaged over 170,000 items from the National Archeological Museum of Baghdad on Saturday, stealing or destroying a priceless collection of artifacts from more than 10,000 years of history.
Among the stolen items, according to international archeologists: a 4800-year-old Sumerian vessel, a stone tablet filled with cuneiform writings, the bust of an Akkadian king from 2300 B.C. and sculptured stone birds dating back to 8,000 B.C.
Worldwide, archeologists and museum curators have criticized the U.S. for failing to protect the museum, a haven of Iraqi heritage and world history.
In an interview with the Washington Post on Sunday, Iraq specialist McGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute said experts had warned the U.S. about the National Museum's vulnerability.
During the 1991 Gulf War, looters pillaged 9 of Iraq's 13 regional museums.
Gibson said he and several other scholars, collectors and museum directors met with Pentagon officials in January to express concerns that the museum could be in danger if a conflict erupted in Baghdad. He said U.S. officials assured them the museum and others would be protected.
Gibson compared the magnitude of the loss of the museum's treasures to mummies being stolen from King Tut's tomb in Egypt.
What was lost
The National Archeological Museum of Baghdad housed artifacts dating back thousands of years in the history of the Tigris-Euphrates region. It catalogued periods of early Islamic culture and its collection included sculptures, writings and pottery from ancient Mesopotamia, one of the world's earliest civilizations.
United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koichiro Matsuura called the stolen collection, estimated to be worth billions of dollars, one of the richest in the world. He has asked the U.S. and Britain to take measures to protect Iraq's remaining archeological sites and cultural institutions, including the Mosul Museum in northern Iraq.
In the U.S., Secretary of State Colin Powel said U.S. troops are now trying to secure the National Museum. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld blamed the situation on the transition of leadership, saying similar situations have occurred in Eastern Europe and in the U.S. during times of conflict.
"We've seen it in Los Angeles here in our own country. We've seen it in Detroit, we've seen it in city after city when there was a difficulty," Rumsfeld said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.
He said some people have begun returning looted supplies to Baghdad hospitals.
According to the provisions of the 1954 Hague Convention, which updated the 1907 and 1899 rules of war, it is the responsibility of the occupying force to protect the cultural property of the occupied territory as much as possible.
Efforts to restore lost items
For now, experts will try to prevent the sale of the stolen items. UNESCO has called for countries bordering Iraq to prevent the "illegal export of Iraqi cultural goods" by monitoring their entry points.
UNESCO archeologists will hold an emergency meeting in Paris on Thursday to determine what can be done to restore the lost items.
-- By Kristina Nwazota, NewsHour Extra
Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Sumerian - (adj) 1. Of or relating to ancient Sumer or its people, language, or culture (n) 1. A member of an ancient people, probably of non-Semitic origin, who established a nation of city-states in Sumer in the fourth millennium B.C. that is one of the earliest known historic civilizations.
Tigris - A river of southwest Asia rising
in eastern Turkey and flowing southeast through Iraq to the Euphrates
River. It was a major transportation route in ancient times.
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