New elections later this month could bring greater political stability to the country. Cruikshank had been to the museum in Baghdad, had inspected the collection, the storerooms, the outbuildings, and had interviewed people who had been present around the time of the looting, including George and some US troops. By that time, he and other museum officials said, the several acres of museum grounds were overrun by thousands of men, women and children, many of them armed with rifles, pistols, axes, knives and clubs, as well as pieces of metal torn from the suspensions of wrecked cars. While national feelings are often evoked to justify keeping archaeological artifacts in their country of origin, the more important scientific reason for doing so is that the context of the artifact is preserved by keeping it close to where it was found. This plundering of Iraq’s cultural heritage has only whetted the appetite of collectors who are already responsible for looting Far Eastern, Latin American and Italian archaeological sites. Reporters came in and saw empty shelves and reached the conclusion that all was gone. Civilians inspect Torah scrolls stored in the vault of the National Museum in Baghdad. The thousands of clay tablets that survive from this period testify to the careful management of resources that kept this empire alive until 1990 BC, when it was replaced by the Babylonian empire, which reached its high point under Hammurabi in 1792 BC. About half an hour later, the looters were back, and they threatened to kill me, or to tell the Americans that I am a spy for Saddam Hussein's intelligence, so that the Americans would kill me. Furious, I conclude two things from all this. Mr. Hassan, who said he had spent 34 years helping to develop the museum's collection, described watching as men took sledgehammers to locked glass display cases and in some instances fired rifles and pistols to break the locks. Hawkins himself retired in 2000 as vice president of the trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, an institution that, according to its own former director, Thomas Hoving, holds many artifacts looted from Etruscan tombs. The American military authorities had made no effort to prevent the objects leaving Baghdad or to put in process an international search for the stolen artifacts. They are worried that these priceless historical treasures will never be found. But once American troops entered Baghdad in sufficient force to topple Saddam Hussein's government this week, it took only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed, with at least 170,000 artifacts carried away by looters. On April 10 2003, the first looters broke into the National Museum of Iraq. A decade later, however, the true cost to our understanding of such a rich share of humanity’s heritage has yet to be tallied. It has defended New York art dealer Frederick Schultz, who was convicted under the National Stolen Property Act, and opposes the use of the 1977 US v. McClain decision as a legal precedent in cases concerning the handling of stolen art objects. Most of the museum’s estimated 170,000 artifacts were eventually found to be safe. A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America. One other hospital managed to keep on functioning in a manner by organizing local civilians as armed guards. I first met Hamdani in May 2003 on the sidewalk outside U.S. military headquarters in the southern city of Nasiriya, where he was desperately attempting to get help to stop the vandals poaching ancient sites. Professor Zinab Bahrani from Columbia University claimed that, "By April 12 the entire museum had been looted," and added, "Blame must be placed with the Bush administration for a catastrophic destruction of culture unparalleled in modern history." They blamed U.S. troops for not protecting the treasures. So, there's the picture: 100,000-plus priceless items looted either under the very noses of the Yanks, or by the Yanks themselves. There lay the lands of the Bible. One, which had clearly been used as a sniper point by Ba'ath forces, had also been looted of its best items, although they had been stacked in a far corner. 3. } As fires in a dozen government ministries and agencies began to burn out, and as looters tired of pillaging in the 90-degree heat, museum officials reached the hotels where foreign journalists were staying along the eastern bank of the Tigris River. As the full extent of the looting of Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad emerges, it becomes clear that there was nothing accidental about it. Since the last Gulf War in 1991 Iraqi antiquities have flooded onto the market from the museums that were looted then and from archaeological sites that have been attacked with bulldozers. Not all of it, of course. “I would like to propose,” he said, “that the Cairo Museum offer museums around the world the opportunity to acquire up to 50 objects for their collections.
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