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Tenth of Missing Iraq Artifacts Returned

July 8, 2003

LONDON (AP) _ About 10 percent of the artifacts known to have been stolen from Iraqi museums after the war have been recovered, archaeologists said Tuesday, emphasizing they are working to determine what is still missing, damaged or destroyed.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said archaeologists who attended a five-day conference in London now have a clearer idea of the number of damaged items at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. The conference ended Monday.

``There is a steady progress in defining the loss of artifacts in museums in Baghdad and Mosul,″ MacGregor told a news conference Tuesday.

However, deteriorating security and lack of electricity are hampering the work of drawing up inventories of what is missing, experts said.

Looters smashed many artifacts, making it difficult for the 44 staffers at the Baghdad museum to reassemble them and determine what has been stolen and what is damaged, said Nawal al-Mutawalli, director of Iraq’s museums.

She said the list of items missing from storage rooms of Baghdad’s museum alone now stands at 13,000. In addition, 47,000 pieces are missing from the museum’s exhibition hall, several of them major masterpieces.

Staffers had so far only checked half the items in the storage rooms. ``We expect the number of missing items to rise,″ al-Mutawalli said.

The missing items include the Akkadian Basitki statue, the bronze statue of Akki from 2300 B.C., al-Mutawalli said. Looters also took the heads of five Roman statues on display in the museum’s exhibition hall, smashing the bodies into pieces, she said.

Al-Mutawalli said she was most gratified with the recovery of the 8th century B.C. statue of Shalmaneser III.

Many of the items recovered were brought back by Iraqi people, political groups and customs officials, she said.

Donny George, director-general of Iraq’s Research and Scientific Studies of Antiquities and Heritage, said about 1,000 missing objects were returned by Iraqi people and about 200 items by political groups and customs.

``Maybe we got back one-tenth,″ he said, adding that at least seven pieces had been taken home by Iraqis for safekeeping and then returned.

Sifting through the broken artifacts is difficult, especially in the 122-degree heat, said al-Mutawalli. Staffers had only recently been supplied with generators for air conditioning.

Protection of Iraq’s 10,000 registered archaeological sites against looters is also a major concern.

Muayyad Damerji, a senior adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, and George said priority must be given to guarding the sites _ 70 of which are in former ancient capital cities.

Many are so big they need an army to protect them, the experts said. The site in Babylon is 8.9 square miles, while the one in Samara to the east is 35 square miles, Damerji said.

In the last week, he said, local tribesmen were recruited as guards, and U.S. and British military helicopters were also patrolling.

Iraqi antiquities officials were meeting with their counterparts in other Arab countries to try to prevent illegal transfer of antiquities, Damerji said.

He commended Jordanian border guards for preventing many of the artifacts and ancient manuscripts from crossing into Jordan.

Elizabeth Stone, professor of anthropology at State University of New York at Stony Brook, accused American, British, European, Japanese and Israeli antiquities collectors of providing smugglers with a market. These buyers, she said, were able to escape prosecution because they had access to good lawyers.

George and Damerji said the experience of recent wars had made them experts in safeguarding antiquities.

``We evacuated the museum many times, beginning with the Iran-Iraq war″ of 1980-88, said Damerji. The tactic, he said was never to tell other staff, ``not even the minister of culture,″ when or where they were moving something. ``Only 10 people who were under oath knew,″ he said. ``This time, five were under oath.

``We put (the artifacts) in boxes and hid them,″ Damerji said.

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