TOPICS > Politics

FBI Investigates Baghdad Antiquities Looting

BY Admin  April 17, 2003 at 6:01 PM EST

FBI Director Robert Mueller said the agents would issue international alerts about the potential sale of stolen items on the open and black market and would aid in the recovery of those items.

“We are firmly committed to doing whatever we can to secure these treasures to the people of Iraq,” he said.

Looters ransacked and emptied multiple museums in Baghdad and other cities in the final days of the war, completely destroying some of the most ancient, rare, and valuable artifacts in the world.

At the National Archeological Museum in Baghdad, looters smashed and stole artifacts dating back to the days of ancient Mesopotamia, considered by historians to be “the cradle of civilization.”

At a meeting at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) this week, experts said criminals may have intentionally targeted some of the collections.

“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.

Worldwide, archeologists, collectors and museum directors have criticized the U.S. for failing to protect Iraq’s museums and its national library in Baghdad, where looters also ransacked and obliterated important documents.

Before the war, Gibson said he and several other scholars met with Pentagon officials to express concern that the museum could be in danger if a conflict erupted in Baghdad. He said U.S. officials assured them the National Museum and others would be protected.

On Monday, the head of the President’s Advisory Committee on Cultural Property, Martin Sullivan, resigned in protest at the U.S. military’s handling of the looting.

“It didn’t have to happen,” Sullivan said.

He told Reuters that U.S. priorities during the conflict had a “big gap.”

“In a pre-emptive war that’s the kind of thing you should have planned for,” he said.

Responding to complaints that U.S. ground forces stood by while the looting took place, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the small number of forces used in Baghdad and their concentration on military objectives, which included saving military and civilian lives, kept them from guarding the museums.

UNESCO head Koichiro Matsuura admitted that it is hard for governments to concentrate on preserving artifacts during a war.

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