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Archaeologists charge US with 'crime of the century'

US troops committed the "crime of the century" when they failed to protect Iraqi artefacts, said antiquities officials in Baghdad.

world Updated: Apr 18, 2003 20:10 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

US troops committed the "crime of the century" when they failed to protect priceless Iraqi artefacts from looters and likely trampled archaeological sites, top antiquities officials in Baghdad charged on Friday.

"With what I'm expecting has happened in the (archaeological) sites in the field and what happened to the Iraq museum, I would say it's the crime of the century because it is really affecting the heritage of mankind," said the head of the National Archaeological Museum in Baghdad, Donny George.

"It looks like there was an action and there were other priorities (for the United States) besides the Baghdad museum," George said as he briefed reporters about the firestorm over the ransacking of the museum last Friday.

US troops who seized the Iraqi capital on April 9 watched as looters carted away artefacts from some of the world's oldest civilizations.

A UN conference held on Thursday in Paris to examine the war damage to Iraq's cultural heritage said much of the looting of the museum was carried out by organised gangs who traffic in works of ancient art.

Experts there said among the items lost was a collection of around 80,000 cuneiform tablets that contain examples of the some of the world's earliest writing. A 5,000-year-old Sumerian alabaster vase -- known as the Warka vase -- also disappeared.

Asked if that meant the US troops were ignorant of the value of the pieces housed in the museum, George answered "perhaps".

Under pressure after the museum looting, the United States has offered to send FBI agents to the Iraqi capital to help with the recovery effort.

The head of President George W Bush's cultural advisory committee also stepped down on Thursday in protest at US failure to stop the pillage.

Traffickers in Iraqi archaeological items have thrived since the 1991 Gulf war thanks to growing international demand and an economic crisis in Iraq which encouraged ordinary people to find innovative new ways to make money, experts say.

First Published: Apr 18, 2003 15:53 IST