Revealed: The Real Story Behind the Great Iraq Museum Thefts ; How the US Army's Indiana Jones Went after Baghdad's Raiders of the Antiquities
Randall, David, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
The story of what really happened inside the Iraq Museum when thousands of valuable antiquities were stolen in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 US invasion has been revealed in a new book.
Written by the chief investigator, it says there were three separate thefts, at least one of which was an inside job, another the work of professionals, and a third the fault of fleeing Iraq military. At least 13,864 objects were stolen, making it the biggest museum heist in history.
But the book reveals that, with an estimated 500,000 objects in the museum and thieves having the run of the place for 36 hours, the wonder is the loss was not far closer to the original, inaccurate, reports of 170,000 items. And the efforts of Iraqi, US and Italian officials, plus police and customs worldwide, have so far led to the recovery of 5,400 items, nearly 700 from inside the US and Britain.
All this is told in Thieves of Baghdad, available only in the US, and written by Matthew Bogdanos who has been described, with only a minimum of hyperbole, as a real-life Indiana Jones. Born in New York, he worked in his family's Greek restaurant, became a marine, a reservist, a lawyer, lost his home in the 9/11 attacks, and had to use all his marine training to fight through crowds and emergency service workers to rescue his family from an flat whose windows were blown in. Weeks later, he was a marine lieutenant-colonel, on operations in Afghanistan, and thence, by 2003, to southern Iraq.
It was here, on 18 April in Basra, he heard the Iraq Museum has been plundered. Mr Bogdanos " a keen amateur classicist " requested permission to investigate, put a team together, and hurried north to Baghdad. He arrived at the museum compound on 20 April. It had been used as a fighting position, Iraq army uniforms were scattered all around, as were expended rocket-propelled grenades. And, above the centre door to the main building, was a sign saying 'Death to all Americans and Zionist pigs'.
Saddam's forces had abandoned the museum sometime on 10 April. Two days later senior curators returned, chasing off the last of the looters that had numbered 300 to 400 at their height. It was in this window of 36 hours that the thefts occurred.
The first area the US team entered was the administrative offices where the destruction was 'wanton and absolute'. But, in the public galleries, the damage was far lighter. Of 451 display cases, only 28 were damaged, but nearly all were empty. To his relief, Bogdanos learnt their contents had been removed by staff ahead of the invasion. But 40 antiquities " including some of the best, such as the Sacred Vase of Warka, the Mask of Warka, Bassetki Statue and the eighth-century BC ivory Lioness Attacking a Nubian " were stolen. …