Posted by Andreas from dtm2-t8-2.mcbone.net (188.8.131.52) on Friday, April 11, 2003 at 5:29PM :
US looter lobby call Iraqis "retentionist"
The Guardian (UK)
US lobby could threaten Iraqi heritage
Thursday April 10, 2003
Apparent lobbying by American art dealers to dismantle Iraq's strict export laws has heightened fears about the looting of the country's antiquities as order breaks down in the last stages of the war.
After the last gulf war a lot of treasures disappeared onto the black market and archaeologists in Britain and the US are concerned this will be repeated on a much larger scale in the power vacuum after the fall of Saddam Hussein, as happened in Afghanistan. For poor Iraqis the temptation to sell stolen antiquities will be greatly increased if it is known there is a ready market in the west.
Iraq, which encompasses Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation, is so rich in remains dating back 10,000 years that it has been described as one vast archaeological site.
Dominque Collon, assistant keeper in the department of the ancient near east at the British Museum, said today that alarm bells had been set ringing by reports of a meeting between a coalition of antiquities collectors and arts lawyers, calling itself the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP), with US defence and state department officials before the start of the war. The group offered help in preserving Iraq's invaluable archaeological collections, but archaeologists fear there is a hidden agenda to ease the way for exports post-Saddam.
The ACCP's treasurer, William Pearlstein, has described Iraq's laws as "retentionist", and the group includes influential dealers who favour a relaxation of the current tight restrictions on the ownership and export of antiquities.
Dr Collon said: "This is just the sort of thing that will encourage looting. Once there is American blessing they have got a market for these antiquities and it becomes open season. The last thing we want is condoned looting."
The ACCP denied accusations of wanting to change Iraq's treatment of antiquities and said at the January meeting they offered post-war technical and financial assistance and conservation support.
This week an international group of archaeologists petitioned the UN and Unesco, a cultural education body, to ensure that whatever body oversees post-war Iraq takes steps to preserve its priceless heritage from destruction and looting.
They urge that security personnel be posted throughout Iraq at its many archaeological sites and museum storage facilities as soon as possible to halt future thefts. "In the aftermath of the previous gulf war, Iraqi archaeological sites and museum collections suffered from extensive looting, the fruits of which continue to disappear into the international black market for illegally procured antiquities," they say.
The archaeologists and scholars want their Iraqi colleagues to continue in or be restored to their positions in museums, archaeological projects, and universities.
The Iraqi antiquities authority should be offered the assistance of specialists from around the world to begin restoration and preservation of antiquities that have been damaged and the training of a new generation of Iraqi experts.
They add: "Whatever body oversees post-war Iraq [should] be ready to offer material assistance to the Iraqi authorities and any concerned international agency prepared to apprehend and prosecute persons responsible for the theft and purchase of Iraqi cultural heritage materials, and to strive for the recovery of those materials and their restoration to the Iraqi people".
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