half of the 15,000 items looted from the National Museum
of Iraq in 2003 have been recovered, said its director,
who thanked American officials for assistance in restoring
and museum director Donny George said law-enforcement and
customs officials in the United States had intercepted at
least 1,000 artifacts stolen from the museum in the
chaotic days after the fall of Baghdad.
Another 3,000 or so artifacts have
been found and secured in Jordan, Syria, Italy and other
nations, said the museum director, an Iraqi-born
Christian. However, he said, the governments of Iran and
Turkey -- both neighbors with porous land borders -- have
failed to respond to legal and diplomatic inquiries.
stolen Iraqi artifacts or their counterfeits still are
advertised on EBay and change hands through channels known
to collectors. U.S. law-enforcement and customs agencies
say they are on the lookout for antiquities but cannot
provide current information on interceptions or
U.S. troops, journalists and
contractors returning from Iraq are among those who have
been caught with forbidden souvenirs -- mostly paintings
and small seals and cylinders that can be carved
exquisitely and hidden easily.
"We are grateful to our
friends and dear brothers" for intercepting the
artifacts, Mr. George said Tuesday evening during a slide
presentation to the National Arts Club in New York.
Much of Baghdad was plunged into
chaos after U.S. troops captured the capital on April 9,
2003. As Iraqi troops fled, looters and professional
thieves quickly overran the museum, which was left
Mr. George -- like many Iraqis and
much of the American press -- blamed U.S. military
planners at the time for ignoring the history and culture
of the country they had come to liberate.
But the museum director was much
more conciliatory at the National Arts Club, where he told
a well-heeled audience that he was "satisfied"
with the level of financial and technical support to
rebuild the shattered museum.
Asked whether the Pentagon had
offered an apology for failing to guard the museum, Mr.
George said U.S. assistance allowed his staff to rebuild
the museum's offices and galleries, install new security
systems and create computer networks where there had been
"I will take that as an
apology," he said.
Mr. George, the director of
research for the State Board of Antiquities under Saddam
Hussein, was installed as director of the National Museum
of Iraq by the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority
that governed the country from early 2003 until last
He remained in that post under the
interim government and has been retained by the
transitional government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
He also has the support of the international antiquities
"He's a real professional,
one of the archaeologists in the Middle East," said
McGuire Gibson, a professor of Mesopotamian archaeology at
the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute who visited
Iraq's museum and archaeological sites in 2003 for the
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization and the National Geographic Society.
Mr. George said much of the
thievery was done by insiders, but told The Washington
Times this week that Iraqi and museum authorities have
made little effort to find the culprits.
"I am asking [U.S.
investigators] to tell me who they have caught," he
said with a shrug.
The museum is trying to establish
a database of the looted artifacts, in part to make them
more difficult to sell. The FBI, Interpol and many museums
also have put up images of the missing artifacts.
In the meantime, Mr. George said,
he has asked governments to document and hold on to what
they intercept until Iraq is more stable.
Thousands of missing pieces are
presumed to be inside Iraq, where a corps of mostly
untrained volunteers has been scouring markets in search
of the missing antiquities.
The museum also has been fortified
with tall concrete walls and welded gates that enclose the
galleries, but Mr. George said it is not safe to reopen
the doors to visitors.