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    09/18/03
    Breaking News
    Posted on Thu, Sep. 18, 2003
    Valuable Sumerian Relic Recovered in Iraq
    SAMEER N. YACOUB
    Associated Press

    BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Lady of Warka, one the two most precious relics looted from the Iraqi National Museum in the chaos that followed the April 9 fall of Baghdad, has been recovered by U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police, the head of Iraq's Antiquities Department said on Thursday.

    The 5,200-year-old artifact, which is a representation of female face, was found buried in an orchard on the outskirts of Baghdad after the Antiquities Department was tipped off by people who had reported seeing it there.

    "The Lady of Warka was one of the most important antiquities stolen when looters broke into the Iraqi Museum. Many people in Iraq and in the world will be delighted with its return," Jabir Ibrahim, head of the department, said.

    Ibrahim said his department received information in mid-August about a group of people trying to sell the Lady of Warka. The negotiations collapsed for unknown reasons, and the relic was subsequently hidden in the orchard, Ibrahim said.

    The artifact, from the ancient city of Warka in southern Iraq, was recovered on Sep. 16 in a joint operation conducted by U.S. military police and Iraqi police.

    "The relic, known as the Sumerian Mona Lisa, will be handed over to the museum in the coming days" added Ibrahim.

    Thousands of relics were ransacked from the museum in the chaos after U.S. troops entered the Iraqi capital, including two of the museum's masterpieces: the Lady of Warka and the 5,200-year-old Vase of Warka, the world's oldest carved-stone ritual vessel. The vase was returned by unidentified men in June - shattered, though experts hope to piece it back together.

    The looting and destruction in April triggered deep criticism of U.S. forces both in Iraq and abroad. Museum curators and archaeologists worldwide said the United States should have protected the precious treasures, dating to the earliest days of settled human history.

    Some looted items have been recovered under a no-questions-asked amnesty program, while others were found in raids or in government vaults where they had been put for safekeeping. Ibrahim said, however, that Iraqi authorities had recovered only about 2,000 of 13,000 looted treasures.

    The museum, still closed, is now guarded by the Iraqi police forces that work under the supervision of the U.S. military. A gallery of artifacts from the Assyrian era is expected to reopen soon.


    Lost from the Baghdad museum: truth



    David Aaronovitch
    Tuesday June 10, 2003
    The Guardian

    Civilians inspect Torah scrolls stored in the vault of the National Museum in Baghdad

    When, back in mid-April, the news first arrived of the looting at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, words hardly failed anyone. No fewer than 170,000 items had, it was universally reported, been stolen or destroyed, representing a large proportion of Iraq's tangible culture. And it had all happened as some US troops stood by and watched, and others had guarded the oil ministry.

    Professors wrote articles. Professor Michalowski of Michigan argued that this was "a tragedy that has no parallel in world history; it is as if the Uffizi, the Louvre, or all the museums of Washington DC had been wiped out in one fell swoop". Professor Zinab Bahrani from Columbia University claimed that, "By April 12 the entire museum had been looted," and added, "Blame must be placed with the Bush administration for a catastrophic destruction of culture unparalleled in modern history." From Edinburgh Professor Trevor Watkins lamented that, "The loss of Iraq's cultural heritage will go down in history - like the burning of the Library at Alexandria - and Britain and the US will be to blame." Others used phrases such as cultural genocide and compared the US in particular to the Mongol invaders of 13th-century Iraq.

    Back in Baghdad there was anger. On April 14, Dr Donny George, the museum's director of research, was distraught. The museum had housed the leading collection of the continuous history of mankind, "And it's gone, and it's lost. If Marines had started [protecting the museum] before, none of this would have happened. It's too late. It's no use. It's no use."

    A few weeks later - in London to address a meeting at the British Museum - George was interviewed for this newspaper by Neal Ascherson. George, said Ascherson, did not throw blame around, but did remark that most of the looters responsible for the damage were not educated.

    On June 1, George was reported in the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag as reiterating that witnesses had seen US soldiers enter the museum on April 9, stay inside two hours and leave with some objects. When asked whether he believed that the US military and international art thieves had been acting in concert, George replied that a year earlier, at a meeting in a London restaurant, someone (unnamed) had told him that he couldn't wait till he could go inside the National Museum with US soldiers and give it a good pillage - ie, yes.

    So, there's the picture: 100,000-plus priceless items looted either under the very noses of the Yanks, or by the Yanks themselves. And the only problem with it is that it's nonsense. It isn't true. It's made up. It's bollocks.

    Not all of it, of course. There was some looting and damage to a small number of galleries and storerooms, and that is grievous enough. But over the past six weeks it has gradually become clear that most of the objects which had been on display in the museum galleries were removed before the war. Some of the most valuable went into bank vaults, where they were discovered last week. Eight thousand more have been found in 179 boxes hidden "in a secret vault". And several of the larger and most remarked items seem to have been spirited away long before the Americans arrived in Baghdad.

    George is now quoted as saying that that items lost could represent "a small percentage" of the collection and blamed shoddy reporting for the exaggeration.

    "There was a mistake," he said. "Someone asked us what is the number of pieces in the whole collection. We said over 170,000, and they took that as the number lost. Reporters came in and saw empty shelves and reached the conclusion that all was gone. But before the war we evacuated all of the small pieces and emptied the showcases except for fragile or heavy material that was difficult to move."

    This indictment of world journalism has caused some surprise to those who listened to George and others speak at the British Museum meeting. One art historian, Dr Tom Flynn, now speaks of his "great bewilderment". "Donny George himself had ample opportunity to clarify to the best of [his] knowledge the extent of the looting and the likely number of missing objects," says Flynn. "Is it not a little strange that quite so many journalists went away with the wrong impression, while Mr George made little or not attempt to clarify the context of the figure of 170,000 which he repeated with such regularity and gusto before, during, and after that meeting." To Flynn it is also odd that George didn't seem to know that pieces had been taken into hiding or evacuated. "There is a queasy subtext here if you bother to seek it out," he suggests.

    On Sunday night, in a remarkable programme on BBC2, the architectural historian Dan Cruikshank both sought and found. Cruikshank had been to the museum in Baghdad, had inspected the collection, the storerooms, the outbuildings, and had interviewed people who had been present around the time of the looting, including George and some US troops. And Cruikshank was present when, for the first time, US personnel along with Iraqi museum staff broke into the storerooms.

    One, which had clearly been used as a sniper point by Ba'ath forces, had also been looted of its best items, although they had been stacked in a far corner. The room had been opened with a key. Another storeroom looked as though the looters had just departed with broken artefacts all over the floor. But this, Cruikshank learned, was the way it had been left by the museum staff. No wonder, he told the viewers - the staff hadn't wanted anyone inside this room. Overall, he concluded, most of the serious looting "was an inside job".

    Cruikshank also tackled George directly on events leading up to the looting. The Americans had said that the museum was a substantial point of Iraqi resistance, and this explained their reticence in occupying it. Not true, said George, a few militia-men had fired from the grounds and that was all. This, as Cruikshank heavily implied, was a lie. Not only were there firing positions in the grounds, but at the back of the museum there was a room that seemed to have been used as a military command post. And it was hardly credible that senior staff at the museum would not have known that. Cruikshank's closing thought was to wonder whether the museum's senior staff - all Ba'ath party appointees - could safely be left in post.

    Furious, I conclude two things from all this. The first is the credulousness of many western academics and others who cannot conceive that a plausible and intelligent fellow-professional might have been an apparatchiks of a fascist regime and a propagandist for his own past. The second is that - these days - you cannot say anything too bad about the Yanks and not be believed.

    Related articles
    08.06.2003: Priceless treasures saved from looters of Baghdad museum
    05.06.2003: Effort to save heritage puts lives at risk
    06.05.2003: Fake artefacts for sale on a side street

  • Baghdad Museum Project






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