Iraq launches campaign to recover missing antiquities

Employees at the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad check artefacts returned from Germany in January 2012. [Saad Shalash/Reuters]

Employees at the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad check artefacts returned from Germany in January 2012. [Saad Shalash/Reuters]

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Iraq has kicked off a campaign urging the world community to co-operate with Iraq to regain its missing antiquities and protect its archaeological sites.

The campaign, which was launched at the beginning of February, includes sending government delegations to sign agreements with countries to help recover smuggled Iraqi antiquities.

"There are states that have not shown co-operation at the required level," said Aqeel al-Mandelawi, director general of relations at the Ministry of Culture. "Therefore the government, through our ministry and the other concerned ministries, such as the Foreign, Antiquities, and Justice Ministries, plan to intensify their contacts with those countries to urge them to show more co-operation and to sign joint memoranda with Iraq."

He said Iraq will cite international agreements and resolutions that fight illegal trade in antiquities.

So far, Iraq has been able to regain 115,000 art and antiquity pieces since 2003, including about 5,000 out of the 15,000 pieces that were stolen from the National Museum.

Amira Eidan Thahab, director of the Iraqi museums department at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told Mawtani that regaining these antiquities represent "the most difficult and complicated task".

According to Thahab, the number of pieces that have been smuggled outside the country is estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Since the artefacts were essentially un-documented and had no stamps on them showing they belonged to Iraq, determining their whereabouts is a very complex process.

Thahab said Iraq will strive through its campaign to win more co-operation from the world community to restore all that was stolen.

Last week, German authorities returned 45 antiquity pieces to Iraq, including a 6,500-year-old gold plate, a 3,000-year-old stone belonging to the Assyrian era that was part of the gate of King Ashur Banipal, and number of items belonging to the Sumerian period.

Thahab said regaining these pieces was a "great achievement", but called on the various countries to follow in the footsteps of Germany and other countries that have not hesitated to provide assistance to Iraq in regaining its antiquities.

She also said that her office "is about to regain 654 important antiquity pieces belonging to the Aramaic period from Britain after the British police recently seized them at a public auction".

Protecting archaeological sites

Ali al-Shallah, chairman of the committee on culture, tourism and antiquities in the Iraqi parliament, said the government has put regaining looted Iraqi antiquities and securing the country's museums and archaeological sites at the top of its priorities.

"The spread of those sites across vast unmarked areas of the country makes the provision of total security for them in the traditional way almost impossible because we would then need huge numbers of security men and vast physical and financial resources," he said.

"Therefore the government, and as part of its campaign, will approach advanced countries to help Iraq in this respect by providing technical expertise and supplying it with modern monitoring equipment that employ satellites for surveillance and follow up," he added.

According to the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, the number of recorded archaeological sites in Iraq is 10,016, but many field experts say there are tens of thousands more sites that have yet to be discovered and have not been subject to investigation and excavation missions.

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  • READER COMMENTS

    أياد العزاوي

    2012-11-2

    We have heard thousands of times that Iraq earmarks millions of dollars to the streets and other millions of dollars to such and such; however, we have never heard that Iraq intends to earmark any millions to rehabilitate and renovate the National Museum? I have heard that France would earmark 3 million dollars to help Iraq restore some of its monuments, so what is the fate of this money?

  • مهند

    2012-3-14

    I want to say to every honorable Iraqi not to give a chance to those trying to harm both Iraq and the Iraqis. Iraqis should not let their country collapse and that history should remain in Iraq. We have become a joke for the Arab and European governments because we cannot protect our own history. However, what else can we do? There is nothing good in Iraq. I call upon the Iraqi Government to do its utmost in order to protect Iraq and the Iraqis. I pray to God that everything will be all right in Iraq, Amen.

  • هناء الصفار

    2012-3-14

    Iraqi antiquities are definitely very important and every Iraqi should preserve them. I am one of those people who are most concerned about antiquities, that they will be stolen, because they are considered as a part of the Iraqi history. Iraq has a very ancient and powerful civilization and history but, unfortunately, those with cruel intentions have stolen these antiquities. In my opinion, the Iraqi Government and officials, who are interested in history and heritage, should do their best to protect these important antiquities which are of great value to every Iraqi because history repeats itself and by protecting these relics, the next generations will know that Iraq has a long and ancient history. However, what can we say about a failed government, which cannot do anything without resorting to violence? Now, it gives the chance for thieves to loot Iraq’s antiquities. I cannot bear what is going on anymore because the history of Iraq is very important to me. I believe that it is the government’s duty to intensify surveillance on the borders because there are people who illegally sneak into Iraq to steal Iraq’s treasures in order to ruin and sell Iraq for free.

  • حسن بدران

    2012-3-7

    We hope that the neglect stops and we keep up with at least the rest of the countries that characterizes and boasts the exhibition of their antiquities, even if it is a small part. Iraq is full of all these great things. For this reason, we hope that Iraq will be one of the best countries for tourism, which contains a lot of antiquities that are characterized by their way of presentation, thus, making the tourists enjoy the show and learn about the history of Iraq, the land of Mesopotamia, and the land of civilizations.

  • عنوش

    2012-3-7

    We should be working on the provision of care for what remained of the antiquities whether they are archeological sites, relics, sculptures, statues, or even old buildings that represent an important aspect and vital part of Iraq’s ancient history, and that the Iraqi people wants to have remain among them. The antiquities are a very important part which represents tourism in the country and the tourists are always looking for the antiquities of the country in order to have an idea about its obsolescence and history as well as enjoy the antiquities that they see whether they are buildings, mosques, or archaeological sites. Many of Iraq's provinces contain these antiquities, either in Mosul or in the province of Samara, Karbala, Najaf, Basra, and Baghdad which is rich in archeological sites, the very old ones, or the rest of the governorates of Iraq. We do not forget that there are many artistic and traditional pieces, which represent the civilization of ancient Iraq, that have a very significant role in establishing an exhibition devoted to these rich and precious pieces, even if they are a fraction of what remains after everything that has happened including the circumstances and conditions suffered by Iraq. However, they are considered something precious and should be preserved. We should not leave it without allocating a specific place that could be visited in order to see the history of Iraq and educate the sons of the Iraqi people as well as enriching their knowledge of their country's past through the presentation of these pieces. Also, the side of tourism in the country would be better taken care of in the scope of work and competence.

  • سمير

    2012-3-7

    The great negligence that is happening throughout parts of Iraq with regard to the Iraqi antiquities is so sad because in Iraq, there are no competent authorities who are working to provide protection, care and preservation of the Iraqi antiquities. They represent a very important part and side of the country, especially with respect to tourism. They bring to the country a lot of good things but the neglect which is happening is the prevailing part and the lack of the presence of anyone that works to provide protection and attention to the antiquities of Iraq is something we have to consider and pay attention to, especially since there are a lot of relics that have been stolen or exposed to damage as well as tampering and destruction by subversive elements that do not want Iraq to retain all that is precious and confirms Iraq's long history, and that it is a country with a rich and civilized past.

  • يوسف حمزة

    2012-2-26

    Going through the history of Iraq, one will realize at first glance that this area remained a center of various civilizations over the decades and was a beacon that guided the world by its light for a very long time. Iraq has the after-effects of civilizations as it was the cradle of civilizations such as Ur, Sumerians, and Babylonians up to Islamic civilization. Iraq contains a lot of these civilizations to the present day. There is a wide variety of tourism in Iraq. There is religious tourism based on many of the important places such as shrines, mosques, monasteries, and churches. There are also eco-tourism, which attracts the attention of amateurs of fishing birds, especially hawks, seekers of the most beautiful places such as Habbaniya Lake and Ali Baik waterfall. There is also historical tourism, which is based on archeological sites and ancient civilizations, which are widespread in the land of Iraq. The government must take over the task of promoting tourism in Iraq as its highest priority and work to provide more security, which is the most important element in attracting tourists, especially in the current period. There is no doubt that tourism in Iraq would provide a strong source of national income due to the great potential of the Iraqi tourism sector. No doubt, providing the necessary security is the key for success of the development of this sector.

  • عيسى

    2012-2-24

    We would like to praise the efforts which have been made by the manager and the officials of the museum to restore these monuments. In fact, many of these were smuggled out of Iraq. They have been seen on the internet exhibited in special auctions. The Tourism Committee and the administration of the Iraqi Museum have cooperated in order to restore a considerable number of these monuments with the help of the International Police which has tracked down these auctions that are selling Iraqi monuments. In fact, the looting carried out by these corrupt people has not been confined to museums but also affected the historical sites. Thus, we have to put a bigger number of guards on them in order to thwart the gangs which intend to rob these sites, given that the loss of monuments without restoring them means the death of history.

  • ناجي اسعد

    2012-2-24

    Thanks to every person who has helped us to restore our monuments. We thank them for respecting our civilization which is among the oldest civilizations that have appeared in Mesopotamia. In fact, Iraq includes a lot of valuable treasures and its history has registered these historical stages. The monuments of Ashur, Akkad, and Sumar have been exposed to an organized campaign. These monuments, which show the greatness of the Iraqis, still suffer from the stealing operations up to now. Besides, the Iraqi archeological sites have also been exposed to stealing. These stealing operations still continue up to now because Iraq has succeeded in finding many monuments in Italy and in many other countries. These monuments are seals, statues, beads, daggers, tractors, and weapons which date back to different periods and have been stolen.

  • سلام صدقي

    2012-2-23

    The government must take an interest in all the archeological sites and museums and it must restore all the stolen monuments that exist in the Arab and foreign countries. Of course, it is possible to restore these monuments by claiming them in a judicial way. It is also important to take advantage of this national wealth by putting in a security guard as required. Besides, it is important to transform the residential areas into tourist sites for the sake of those who take an interest in tourism. This is in order to discover the country’s history through these monuments. In fact, if these monuments exist in any other country you would see the extent of interest and care. Why don’t we take advantage of this aspect in Iraq? In fact, the government does not show any interest in monuments.

  • حسون احمد

    2012-2-23

    All of the Iraqi people have been suffering from the unethical acts that have targeted our monuments. In fact, those who have weak souls have sold their consciences for the sake of wealth at the expense of their country’s history and people. Thus, I criticize the monument organization that has been unable to protect the Iraqi archeological sites. It has been unable to open more museums that can protect the Iraqi monuments from damage and neglect. This neglect has led to the destruction of many Iraqi monuments. This is in addition to smuggling many antiquities out of the country. Thus, Iraq needs serious action in order to protect them. In fact, Iraqi history can only be protected through joining efforts between all the monument institutions and security agencies. Iraq is the country of monuments. Therefore, it is important to take an interest in these monuments that have been neglected. Many people inquire about the reasons behind this. It is important to solve this problem of neglect in order to protect the Iraqi monuments and to avoid more losses.

  • ايمن الجبوري

    2012-2-23

    Iraq is a country of civilization and monuments. In fact, all these civilizations have come to this land. All the other countries admire and appreciate this heritage especially since Iraq includes a lot of monuments. It is the country of civilizations and humanity. I think that the Iraqi monuments have been exposed to a significant neglect. Thus, this can threaten our monuments and heritage. Unfortunately, these monuments have been exposed to stealing and looting operations that have been carried out by specialized criminal gangs. This is in order to apply the foreign agenda that wants to destroy our beloved Iraq which includes a historical and cultural heritage which dates back thousands of years.

  • حاتم الكناني

    2012-2-21

    From this free and frank platform, we want to show all Iraqis that Iraq is being sold to a third party and it is possible we may wake up one day and find others governing us. So, we want to make sure that those days will never come and work with all our best in order to return Iraq to its previous status and return all important monuments and we appeal to the Iraqi government that we know does not do anything, but we hope perhaps the government will awaken from its negligence and do something in order to return everything back as it was, and we say God is generous and, God willing, all the artifacts will return to their places and the Iraqis will be one of the developed countries, God willing.

  • طارق عربي

    2012-2-21

    Iraqi antiquities are neglected, regrettably, and those who protect them are as they say; the fox guarding the chicken coop. All Iraqi antiquities are smuggled abroad and Iraq is sold to others indirectly and in cooperation with the Iraqi government, which has long worked for Iraq to become a country that has no place among the Arab countries, but the Almighty God is with the righteous. The antiquities must be returned to their rightful owners, and those responsible for Iraq’s artifacts with their clear and large negligence are nothing but people who are spiteful and do not want what’s good for Iraq at all. These ancient artifacts are remnants that show the Iraqis ancestors had a very big role in many works and Iraqis have to maintain these treasures, and if the government of Iraq does not bother to care about the country in terms of health, economy, politics or things more important than that, we want it at least to take care of these artifacts. I'm one of the people who hates the Iraqi government most because they have brought us to the stage where it is now impossible to become as good country as we were in the past. So, the Iraqi government should first have a solution to the matter of electricity and then work on saving Iraqi antiquities. It benefits if Iraq is sold to a third party in order to get everything readymade, but we, the Iraqis, cannot possibly remain silent on these matters and must do something and stand up against each spoiler to preserve the history of our ancestors, and come up with demonstrations, which could help to embarrass the spoilers from Iraq and to show them that Iraqis are able to get rid of them;, that these antiquities are important to every Iraqi citizen and we want them to be better and have a bigger role.

  • شاكر علي

    2012-2-21

    I really feel so much pain and the entire Iraqi people as well, as we see our country’s antiques being subjected to immoral acts by those who sold out their consciences, who are after money and wealth at the expense of the history of their country and people. I also criticize the Antiquities Authority, which has been unable to maintain Iraq’s antiques through securing all archeological sites or working on building more museums where these antiques can be preserved in order to protect them from tampering or negligence, which was the reason behind the destruction or smuggling of a lot of Iraqi antiques outside the country. Serious moves need to be exerted to further maintain these antiques because they embody the history of Iraq. Therefore, there should be concerted efforts by all archeological institutions and security forces to take care of these antiques and stop neglecting them in this painful and abusive way, which should come to an end.

  • مهدي ال عبود

    2012-2-19

    The Iraqi government should develop the rules and regulations that would preserve this national heritage and instruct the relevant departments in order to provide full protection of the archaeological sites and guard them by the security authorities in charge of this matter and to punish the abusers and arrest them, and bring them to the courts because they exercise unpatriotic acts that could lead to the loss of a part of the ancient civilization of Iraq that must be maintained.

  • مويد وهاب

    2012-2-19

    There are thousands of archaeological sites in Araf that suffer from neglect due to the lack of interest by the Iraqi Department of Antiquities in these sites, which are among the greatest treasures that are priceless because of the historical archaeology that these sites contain dating back to various periods of time that express different civilizations of Iraq as a country of civilization and progress in the world. Thus, these archaeological sites that do not have a patron become places to overcome by the residents of the areas. In addition to the excavation and the digging of such places that thieves of ruins in Iraq do in order to extract treasures buried under the soil, steal them and tamper with other ruins that they do not know the historical value of, and break or sell them for a pittance that is not commensurate with the magnitude of its historical and artistic significance. All of this is due to the clear failure in the performance of the departments affiliated to the Directorate of Antiquities in Iraq, whose primary responsibility is the protection of these archaeological sites in order to preserve them from any damage or harm that could result to their loss or for some thieves to steal these ruins and sell them to some international museums. The Iraqi Department of Antiquities must therefore be at the helm of historical responsibility in order to achieve the preservation of the ruins of civilizations that originated in the land of Iraq and work for their extraction, and placing them in appropriate places like the concern for cultural heritage that is happening in the world to be displayed for each one who visits Iraq to see Iraqi civilization so that everyone will know that the Iraqi people are among the living nations which has a gleaming history and ancient civilization, which gave enlightenment to the whole world and has been credited for teaching many nations and communities various sciences, the most important of which is writing, in addition to ritual and religious values.

  • انور صباح

    2012-2-19

    Our country Iraq is the country of civilizations and the country of monuments which have been left by all these civilizations, which followed one after another on its territory. Iraq is one of the countries in front of which all the world countries stand with all admiration and appreciation for the cultural heritage it has, due to the existence of many monuments upon its territory, because it is the country of civilizations, which has taught humanity a great deal. Therefore, I think that Iraq’s monuments are being exposed to negligence, and it should not continue in this serious way. This threatens our monuments and heritage, which have been exposed to stealing and looting, as a result of the negligence. Many of the regions that contain monuments inside them are exposed today to stealing and looting, unfortunately, by the criminal gangs specialized in monuments, and which are associated with the external agenda that is trying to abuse our beloved Iraq through attempting to destroy this cultural and historical heritage that it has had for thousands of years.

  • ناصر

    2012-2-18

    I extend my congratulations and all the blessings to the Iraqi Museum, this great edifice of civilization, for returning stolen artifacts, which carries within it the history of our country, ancestors and the civilizations that have passed in our country. Those pieces the hands of thieves were able to access in light of the circumstances experienced by our country, the poor security and the unstable situation. That’s what eased the task of stealing for them and smuggling their loot out of Iraq and then trying to sell it there. But thank God and thanks and regards to the Iraqi government and the Antiquities Authority and the Ministry of Tourism and Foreign Affairs; each of these departments worked to track stolen goods from among the Iraqi antiquities even in countries abroad and access them and demand their return to Iraq because it is their right. Actually, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Government managed to return a large number of these artifacts into the Iraqi Museum and restored it so they can be placed in this museum again and be protected better now, especially with the stability of the current situation where there is no longer a chance to steal it again because this museum is very important and precious and priceless. The owners of fanatic minds took these artifacts and sold the history of their country to others, but thank God those important pieces were returned to the country from everywhere in the world, thanks to the coordination with the International Police and with the western countries.

  • فاضل هادي

    2012-2-17

    I extend my congratulations and all the blessings to the Iraqi Museum, this great edifice of civilization for returning stolen artifacts, which carries within it the history of our country, ancestors and the civilizations that have passed in our country. Those pieces which the hands of the crime of thievery have been able to access in light of the circumstances experienced by our country, the poor security and the unstable situation. That’s what eased the task of stealing them and smuggling them out of Iraq and then try to sell them abroad. But thank God and thanks and regards to the Iraqi government and the Antiquities Authority and the Ministry of Tourism and Foreign Affairs; each of these departments worked to track stolen Iraqi antiquities even in countries abroad and access them and demand their return to Iraq, because it is their right. Actually, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Government managed to return a large number of these artifacts back to the Iraqi Museum and restored them to be placed in this museum again and work to protect them better now, especially with the stability of the current situation where there is no longer a chance to steal them again because this museum is very important and precious and priceless. However,those with fanatic minds took these artifacts and sold the history of their country to others, but thank God those important pieces were returned to the country from everywhere in the world, thanks to the coordination with the International Police and with the western countries.

  • حسين

    2012-2-16

    The person who steals the antiquities of Iraq and destroys his own civilization through emptying its cultural and humanitarian content is considered a terrorist as well. Here, I would like to point out that the enemies of Iraq have attacked it from all sides in order to weaken it beyond repair or advancement in the future, but the honorable and good people of Iraq have rejected this situation and they challenged these rogue criminals who challenged all the Iraqis. They do not abide by the laws and regulations that prohibit such a practice which leads to the loss of the Iraqi civilization because it belongs to all the Iraqi people and its preservation as a national treasure is the duty of every human who loves his homeland and civilization, which makes him proud before the whole world. Here comes the role of those who care about the people of Iraq, where they follow up this dangerous issue and through their tireless and powerful efforts, they are able to return most of the artifacts that have been stolen from the Iraqi Museum and other archaeological sites.

  • صباح حسن

    2012-2-13

    The government doesn’t take care of the many antiquities in Iraq. These antiquities are neglected and don’t receive any care and protection from the government or the competent bodies in Iraq. I don’t know how long this neglect of the archeological sites is going to last. Other countries pay special attention and care for their antiquities, because they consider them an invaluable archeological heritage and legacy; while in Iraq, these objects are being looted publicly every day and being traded and sold to other countries, and no one is moving forward to protect them. A lot of archeological sites are about to collapse, and sabotage operations are being carried out against a lot of archeological sites. We need cooperative efforts in order to protect the archeological sites and to make use of them, for example by making them tourist attractions, but only after stabilizing security in these areas, reviving the neighboring areas and paving new roads in order to make travel easier. It is very important to maintain Iraq’s legacy of our ancestors and other civilizations which existed on this land, to promote them and to give the chance to those who are interested in discovering and exploring the archeological history in Iraq.