Priceless Treasures Saved From Looters of Baghdad Museum (Documentary/BBC)

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It is known as one of the worst episodes of the war in Iraq: one of the world's greatest archaeological collections ransacked while American troops stood by, unable or unwilling to act. But now a different picture is emerging of the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad. Only a few dozen significant pieces, not thousands as originally reported, were stolen. And many, a new investigation has found, may have gone missing long before the Americans arrived in the Iraqi capital.

US officials revealed yesterday that several of the most important pieces that were thought to have been stolen have now turned up safe. The world-famous treasure of Nimrud, an extraordinary series of priceless 4,500-year-old gold artifacts, has been found in a flooded vault under the Iraqi National Bank. Other key parts of the museum's collection, including tens of thousands of Greek and Roman gold and silver coins, have been found in strongrooms in the Baghdad museum itself. Staff there now say that only 33 major items and around 2,000 minor works have gone.

'The treasure was never lost,' Salman Faleh, the governor of the central bank, said yesterday. 'We knew all along that they were there. It just took a bit of time to get at them because of the flooding.'

US customs agents who helped with the recovery of the treasure said that when they first entered the vaults they found bodies of looters killed in shoot-outs with rival gangs. But the seals on the crates of treasure proved to be intact.

The truth about what happened at the museum will be revealed in a documentary, to be broadcast tonight on BBC2, by Dan Cruickshank, the architectural historian. Cruickshank, who visited Iraq shortly before the war, returned in the aftermath of the conflict. ...

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