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[casi] Unesco Lengthens List Of Looted Art In Iraq

Unesco lengthens list of looted art in Iraq
Barry James/IHT IHT
Saturday, May 24, 2003

Thousands of treasures said to be missing

PARIS A Unesco survey of Iraq's smashed and looted cultural treasures indicates that 2,000 to 3,000 
objects may be missing from the National Museum in Baghdad alone and that the entire contents of 
the National Library are lost beyond retrieval.

In addition, more than 1,500 modern paintings and sculptures from the city's Museum of Fine Arts 
are still missing and only 400 have been recovered, according to Mounir Bouchenaki, assistant 
director general for culture at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

"This is a real cultural disaster,” said Bouchenaki, who led an international team of experts to 
Baghdad. "And we will have to redo everything from scratch in rebuilding all these cultural 

He said that earlier reports by U.S. officials that as few as 25 pieces had been lost were “a 
distortion of reality” because they described only major pieces taken from the public galleries of 
the museum but not objects in the reserve collections.

"To give a real figure for the losses, we are going to have to draw up an inventory," he said. 
"Only then will we be able to assess the exact number of objects missing in the museum."

He added: "Nobody has talked about the losses at the Museum of Fine Art, which is a very important 
one. The National Library is a real disaster. It's gone."

Bouchenaki, an Algerian, is particularly well-placed to assess the damage. An Arabic-speaking 
archeologist, he has worked in the National Museum on several occasions, most recently in 1998 when 
he helped organize work to install air conditioning and video surveillance in the building.

The museum reopened in 2000 for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War after extensive renovation, 
but has now been stripped of virtually all its furniture and equipment, Bouchenaki said.

He said the National Library, founded in 1920, contained about 2 million volumes, all of which have 
been reduced to piles of ashes. However, he said a few of the most valuable manuscripts were held 
in the Saddam Center for Manuscripts and are believed to be safe.

Iraqi museum officials said they had also scattered some objects around the city's mosques and 
religious buildings and had placed about 6,700 pieces of gold and jewelry in bank vaults, where 
they would remain until the security situation improves.

Although the Unesco mission was confined to Baghdad, it received reports from experts working 
outside the capital. From them, it was possible to deduce that the scale of looting at historic 
sites had been enormous, he added.

The members of the team are drawing up a report, expected to be completed next week, that will 
describe the damage and suggest measures that need to be taken immediately.

The team included the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor; the director of the 
Iraqi-Italian center for the conservation of monuments, Roberto Parapetti; the head of the Japanese 
archeological mission in Iraq, Ken Matsumoto, and the dean of the Massachusetts College for Arts, 
John Russell.

Bouchenaki said that the museums would now have to be handled like an archeological dig, with every 
centimeter mapped and photographed to help in later restoration efforts.

He also said that movement must be restricted to avoid any trampling of small fragments underfoot.

Next, he said, a body set up by Unesco to study the preservation and restoration of cultural 
objects would need to train local people to restore smashed objects, which included fragments of a 
golden harp and a gold mask from the city of Ur.

Bouchenaki said that under an agreement signed earlier this month with Interpol, the international 
police organization, Unesco had already set up a database of missing objects that was being 
circulated to law enforcement organizations around the world.

Iraqi objects are already being offered for sale on the Internet, he said, and there is evidence of 
an organized traffic of looted objects from Mosul to Damascus.

Bouchenaki said that Unesco had asked governments in the region to prevent stolen items from 
leaving Iraq and that he had been impressed on arriving in Amman at how efficiently the Jordanian 
authorities were complying.

International Herald Tribune

Copyright © 2003 The International Herald Tribune

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