- J.F. Bajjaly, "History
lost in dust of war-torn Iraq," in BBC News (UK), April 25, 2005: [she
usually publishes under her Farchakh name]; "It is two years since
looters ravaged one of the world's most important museums, in central
Baghdad. ... Professional smugglers connected to the international
antiquities mafia managed to break some of the sealed doors of the
Baghdad Museum storage rooms. They looted priceless artefacts such as
the museum's entire collection of cylindrical seals and large numbers
of Assyrian ivory carvings. More than 15,000 objects were taken. Many
were smuggled out of Iraq and offered for sale. To date, 3,000 have
been recovered in Baghdad, some returned by ordinary citizens, others
by the police. In addition, more than 1,600 objects have been seized in
neighbouring countries, some 300 in Italy and more than 600 in the
United States. Most of the stolen items are unaccounted for, but some
private collectors in the Middle East and Europe have admitted
possessing objects bearing the initials IM (Iraq Museum inventory
number). An ever-growing number of websites also offer Mesopotamian
artefacts - anywhere up to 7,000 years old - for sale. Doubtless, there
are more fake objects advertised on the web than authentic ones, but
the mere existence of this market has fuelled the looting of
archaeological sites in southern Iraq. The picture there is appalling.
More than 150 Sumerian cities dating back to the fourth millennium BC -
such as Umma, Umm al-Akkareb, Larsa and Tello - lie destroyed, turned
into crater-filled landscapes of shredded pottery and broken bricks. If
properly excavated, these cities - covering an estimated 20 sq km -
could help us learn about the development of the human race. But the
looters have destroyed the monuments of their own ancestors, erasing
their own history in a tireless search for a cylinder seal, a sculpture
or a cuneiform tablet that they can sell to a dealer for a few dollars.
It is tough, poorly paid work carried out by jobless Iraqis with no way
of earning a better income. 'A cylinder seal or a cuneiform tablet
brings in under $50 on the site for the looter,' explains the
archaeologist responsible for the district of Nasiriya, Abdul Amir
Hamadani. 'It's a disaster that we are all witnessing and observing,
but which we can do little to prevent. With the help of 200 newly
recruited police officers we are trying to stop the looting by
patrolling the sites as often as possible. But we are now all alone.
Italian carabinieri troops were the only coalition forces that actively
worked on this issue for a few months. They used to patrol the region
by land and from the sky. They have stopped all their operations and
are now simply helping train policemen and guards.'"
"The withdrawal of coalition troops from Babylon has revealed
irreversible damage to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
An alarming report by the keeper of the British Museum's Near East
department, Dr John Curtis, describes how areas in the middle of the
archaeological site were levelled to create a landing area for
helicopters and parking lots for heavy vehicles. ... 'US military
vehicles crushed 2,600-year-old brick pavements, archaeological
fragments were scattered across the site, more then 12 trenches were
driven into ancient deposits and military earth-moving projects
contaminated the site for future generations of scientists. Add to all
that the damage caused to nine of the moulded brick figures of dragons
in the Ishtar Gate by people trying to remove the bricks from the
wall.' There will be no end to the destruction of Iraq's heritage,
unless the country's leaders take a political decision to consider
archaeology a priority. For this, the ring of dealers in Baghdad has to
be seized, looting in the south has to be effectively confronted and
coalition forces have to be prevented from setting up base on
archaeological sites. The longer Iraq finds itself in a state of war,
the more the cradle of civilization is threatened. It may not even last
long enough for our grandchildren to learn from."
Photo 1: "Warka Lady - The Warka Lady was one of the most important
pieces in the Baghdad Museum's collection, and dates from about 3100
BC. It has been dubbed the 'Mona Lisa' of the Sumerian period. The
alabaster face was stolen from the museum in April 2003 and recovered
by Iraqi police in June 2003."
Photo 2: "Salamanasar II - A statue of the Assyrian king, Salmanasar
II, thought to have been looted during the ransack of the museum. It
was returned to the museum in May 2003, broken into pieces."
Photo 3: "Basitki statue - The bronze statue of Basitki, dating back to
the Akkadian kingdom of 2300 BC, was stolen in April 2003. It was
recovered by Iraqi police and US soldiers in July 2003."
Photo 4: "Winged bull - This is the human head of a relief of a winged
bull, from the palace of King Sargon II in Khorsabad (721-705 BC). It
is on display at the Assyrian Gallery in the Baghdad Museum. Its great
weight of many tons would have deterred looters."
Photo 5: "Assyrian angel - This Assyrian 'angel' from the ancient city
of Khorsabad, which 721-705 BC (in what is now north-eastern Iraq) is
also on show in the museum's Assyrian Gallery."
Photo 6: "Cylinder seals - Sumerian cylinder seals of stone, bone,
ivory, and wood were looted. They were carved with recessed
inscriptions, which left a raised impression when rolled on wet clay.
These miniature works of art were used to indicate personal identity
and in their time would have been everyday objects."
Photo 7: "History in pieces - But many items were stolen or destroyed
by looters. Here, broken pottery lies in the dust at Larsa, a major
Sumerian capital in today's Nasiriya [region], in southern Iraq."
Photo 8: "Looted Sumerian sites now resemble the surface of the moon"
[Tell Jokha (ancient Umma)?]