Pillaging the Garden of Iraq

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The National Museum of Iraq is now a sorry sight. The rusting gates are shut to the public, inside layers of dust lie across the 28 galleries empty of everything except a dozen ancient statues which are just too vast to move.

More than two and half years after the ransacking of the museum by a mob following the 'liberation' of Baghdad by US troops, almost 10,000 items, including some of the most precious treasures of antiquity in the world, are still missing.

Meanwhile, widespread and systematic looting of Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian architectural sites across the country has resulted in the heritage of Mesopotamia, the cradle of human civilisation, continuing to disappear.

The ferocious violence in Iraq, after President George Bush officially declared a victorious conclusion to the war, has meant that US forces and their Iraqi allies do not have the time or manpower to look for either the stolen museum pieces or to protect the sites scattered around Iraq.

International law agencies are supposedly chasing the ransacked items from the museum. But the man who was tasked by the US government with tracking down the looted artefacts claims that there was never any effective liaison and investigators had to depend on temporary, ad-hoc arrangements to carry on the pursuit of highly sophisticated gangs of smugglers.

Matthew Bogdanos, a colonel in US Marines reserves, who worked as a Manhattan prosecutor, has written of his experience while he was in charge of the mission in a book, Thieves of Baghdad. He said 'There is no co-ordination. It's based on personal relationships, and when it works, it's a surprise.'

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