Museum Looting a Cultural Disaster
By Suzanne Freeman


Part of a beheaded sculpture lies among rubble after a mob looted Iraq's largest archaeological museum in Baghdad on April 13. (Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo/Abaca Press/KRT)
One of the world's great collections of antiquities was destroyed in the looting of Baghdad during the third week of the war. The National Museum of Iraq was home to artifacts spanning 7,000 years of civilization. Most of the museum's contents were stolen or destroyed over a two-day period.

Iraq is believed to be the site of the biblical Garden of Eden and the home of the patriarch Abraham. Known then as Mesopotamia, it is the place where the first laws were written and the first alphabet developed.

"Mesopotamia is the world's first civilization," said Gil Stein, a historian from the University of Chicago. "It's the first place to develop cities, the first place where writing was invented. And the artifacts from the excavations from there are the patrimony for our entire civilization and absolutely irreplaceable."

Restoring History


The Golden Bull's Head from the Lyre, which dates back to 2500 BC, is missing. (Photo Credit: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology)
What can't be replaced, UN officials hope to find. The UN is expected to pass a resolution to ban the sale of antiquities looted from Iraq.

Some of the stolen artifacts from the Baghdad museum are already finding their way back home. Pleas from clerics in mosques and on radio broadcasts have led many people to return the treasures they stole.

One man, when he saw the looting, carried out two van loads of treasures for safekeeping. Namir Ibrahim Jamil wrapped the items in foam and returned them this week after the museum was secured.

"It is our history, our heritage, our civilization," said the 33-year-old pianist. Jamil contacted museum's research director Donny George the day after the looting to tell him what he had.

"I am so happy," George said. He embraced Jamil as the items were unloaded from the van.

UNESCO sent a team of experts to Iraq to help put the country's history back together. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The team is studying the conditions of the museum's main structure and is rebuilding its collection.

Founded in the 1920s, the National Museum of Iraq was closed after the 1991 Gulf War. It did not reopen until 2000. It suffered no damage during the Gulf War, or during the more recent bombing raids of Baghdad.