Iraqi Expert Accuses West over Antiquities Trade

By Akbar, Arifa | The Independent (London, England), May 1, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Iraqi Expert Accuses West over Antiquities Trade


Akbar, Arifa, The Independent (London, England)


A senior Iraqi official has accused the West of not doing enough to stop the thriving trade in antiquities smuggled out of the country's depleted archaeological sites and sold in auction houses across Britain, America and Europe.

Dr Bahaa Mayah, a special adviser to Iraq's Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, called for an immediate global ban on the sale of at least 100,000 artefacts that have been stolen since the invasion.

Speaking at the British Museum, he said it was the responsibility of the occupying forces to retrieve the valuable artefacts that had been plundered from southern Iraq's archaeologically rich sites since 2003.

Iraqi ministers are to discuss "imminently" the proposal of a global ban with members of the United nations Security Council, he added. "This is a problem of illegal trade that should be of concern to the international community. We want to strip the commercial value of Iraqi antiquities.

"Our antiquities are scattered everywhere from America to Europe. This problem is not new but it has intensified since 2003. Some countries have co-operated with Iraq, but most have not in terms of returning seized items. America is co-operating and not co- operating at the same time. We were grateful when they returned the Statue of Entemena (from 2,430BC) but at the same time, you see auctioneers all over the country trading in our antiquities. No action is being taken," he said.

The aim of the ban would be to leave the plunder - some 5,000 years old and often of inestimable worth - virtually unsellable. The smugglers are often Iraqis, although soldiers from occupying forces are also under investigation, yet it was demand in the West - America, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Britain - that was leading to a thriving trade in auction houses, he said.

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