Monday, 17 December 2012

Smugglers of Iraqi Antiquities Face Crackdown

Nassir al-Hassoun ('Antiquities Smugglers Face Crackdown in Iraq' Al-Monitor Dec 2012) has a report in the latest developments in the fight against the looters and smugglers of archaeological finds out of Iraq. It turns out that detainees from antiquities-smuggling gangs recently arrested in the cities of Dhi Qar and Basra in possession of 186 archaeological artifacts told investigating officials of the use of satellite images to locate sites productive of antiquities, and have admitted to ties with international mafias. Hakem al-Shamari, an official from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities told Al-Hayat that:
"the fact that these gangs — whose members mostly hail from rural areas — possessed maps developed from GPS-based satellite imaging represents a turning point in these investigations, which until now we have not been able to solve. This is evidence of the involvement of foreign states and dangerous global mafias that have the ability to exploit satellite technology to loot Iraq's antiquities and sell these artifacts at auctions worldwide." He added, "these confessions revealed the existence of two people — one based in Jordan and the other in Dubai — who ran the Iraqi antiquities-smuggling ring through the Gulf states, Turkey, Syria or Jordan. They were in charge of the smuggling and helped deliver the artifacts to markets in Germany, France, London and Sweden." 
  There are over 41,000 sites across the country ("12,000 of which have been partly excavated") — and only 16,000 guards to protect the sites. There are intentions to hire 14,000 additional guards early next year. Shamari said that "Out of 15,000 pieces stolen from the Iraqi Museum, 4,662 artifacts have been recovered. Furthermore, we have recovered 117,000 pieces that were stolen through indiscriminate digging at these sites, out of hundreds of thousands of pieces".

The Iraqis are planning to hold an international conference on the problem, aimed at outlawing the smuggling and circulation of antiquities. More than 60 countries will be involved, either because they are areas used for smuggling stolen artifacts, or they are nations that have allowed auctions for the sale of these goods. Hakem al-Shamari pointed out that
"Iraq is determined to get out of this conference an international resolution criminalizing the sale of these antiquities and targeting dealers." 
The Iraqis consider that the involvement of other states and mafias in these crimes highlight the need for the intervention of the United Nations and the international community to deal with this issue.

Obviously the more source countries that highlight the need for some better international regulation of the antiquities trade, the better. If there is enough clamour, perhaps then some notice will be taken and the old outdated measures we have, a legacy of the 1950s and 1960s, will be re-examined, found seriously wanting, and replaced.

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