Iraqi Officials Implicated in Smuggling of Antiquities, British Museum Expert Says

May 14th, 2008 - by admin

Nidhal al-Laithi / Azzaman – 2008-05-14 00:44:09

BAGHDAD (May 13, 2008) — Senior Iraqi officials are involved in the smuggling of archaeological items during their trips abroad, according to a British Museum expert specialized in Mesopotamian antiquities.

Farouq al-Rawi, Professor of ancient Mesopotamian languages, said most of the antiquities these officials carry with them abroad end up in the private collections of royals and wealthy families particularly in the oil-rich Gulf States.

He said one member of the Kuwaiti ruling family, who he declined to name, keeps nearly 6,000 Mesopotamian artifacts in his private collection.

“We are aware that all these pieces were illegally dug from ancient mounds in the southern Province of Missan,” Rawi said.

Missan is archeologically the richest province in the country. Besides its massive and gigantic yet-to-be developed oil fields, it is the birthplace of Sumerian civilization which taught humanity writing and civil government some 5,000 years ago.

Of Iraq’s neighbors only Syria has handed over the antiquities it retrieved from smugglers to Iraq.

“Iran, Turkey, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have so far refused to turn the stolen pieces on their soil over to Iraq,” Rawi said. In the U.A.E., Rawi said, there were thousands of Mesopotamian artifacts which a royal family member claims to have bought from middlemen on behalf of smugglers.

Rawi also alluded to a Norwegian businessman who he said has opened a special museum of at least 6,000 pieces of Mesopotamian artifacts he had obtained from middlemen.

Rawi said the fate of nearly 10,000 cylinder and stamp seals looted from the Iraq Museum in the aftermath of U.S. invasion is not yet known. “These seals are priceless for their value and historical significance. The seal is the distinctive characteristic of Mesopotamian civilization not shared by others,” he said.

Rawi said it was difficult to imagine Mesopotamian civilization or a specialized Mesopotamian museum without seals.

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