Many Iraqi Artifacts Found, but Many Still Missing
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 10, 2003 Precious artifacts looted from Iraqi museums shortly after the war with Iraq began slowly are finding their way back to where they belong, a Pentagon official leading the investigation into the missing items said here today.
During a Pentagon briefing, Marine Corps Col. Matthew Bogdanos said so far during a four-month investigation, about 3,500 artifacts have been recovered and returned to the Iraqi people, but many items remain missing.
Bogdanos leads a 13-member team formed by U.S. Central Command to recover items missing or stolen from Iraqi museums, such the famous Basitki statue that dates back to 2300 B.C. The team has representatives from 10 federal agencies, he said.
Using Web sites and posters, the team hopes to make the missing items more recognizable, he said. The team has posted photos of the 30 most significant missing items from Iraqi museum galleries on FBI and Interpol Web sites. "These will be disseminated not only to the law enforcement community, but to the art community as well," Bogdanos said. Largely the result of giving out photos, Bogdanos said, officials have confiscated 750 museum items at borders and checkpoints in four countries.
One challenge the team has faced is knowing exactly what is missing. Bogdanos said antiquated cataloging and incomplete inventory systems in the Iraqi museums have hampered recovery efforts. Many missing items never were photographed, or if they were, the photos they were often of poor quality or had been destroyed during the looting, he added.
"The reality is that five months into the investigation we still do not have a complete inventory of precisely what is missing," he said. He added, however, that widely reported estimates of 170,000 missing items are "simply wrong."
Bogdanos said the heart of the investigation to retrieve stolen museum items has been an amnesty policy where "no questions are asked," so people can return items without fear of any retribution or criminal prosecution.
"This has proven enormously successful to date," he said, noting that more than 1,700 items have been returned through the amnesty program. Bogdanos said U.S. and coalition raids also have turned up many items.
Tips investigators received from Iraqi citizens resulted in the recovery of more than 900 separate artifacts, he said. "This simply would not have been possible without the overwhelming support received from, and the mutual sense of trust developed with, the Iraqi people in and around Baghdad," the colonel stated.
Working along with the Pentagon are American, British and Italian archeologist and museum specialists, Bogdanos said.