|'Adnan Isma'il Najam Al-Bilawi|
One possibility remains that the 2003+ looting in Iraq (documented on the ground and in satellite photos) resulted in stockpiles of antiquities, bought cheap at source and mothballed in a secure store as an investment, say a retirement nest-egg for some local wiseguy - intended to be sold piecemeal when the fuss dies down in a decade or so. We know holes were dug, stuff hoiked, US and European dealers tell us it never arrived on any market they know - postulating such warehouses is therefore one (pretty good) way of explaining that evidence. What's more, nobody can say that there are not such warehouses.
|Somewhere in Iraq, what's in this building?|
You can also imagine it when one day some armed thugs bust their way into the hoarder's house, thrust an AK in the face of his daughter and bawls out that he'll pull the trigger if he does not hand over the keys - and when he gets the keys anyway blows a hole in her head. And then the hoarder's. They'd come with some guy who knows the trade - ISIL has access to specialists in many fields - who picks out the pieces that give more bucks per transport costs, load them up on some trucks and off they go with them to some market. They can come back for more with impunity until they empty the store of the best bits. Them they might use informants to tell them where the next one is. Plausible? You bet. Did it happen? Could have.
You can imagine too, can't you, the smiling Lebanese dealer shaking hands with the well-dressed man offering him some prime antiquities. The seller is an ISIL political officer, suave and well-groomed in a suit. The dealer is anticipating a good profit, he has some clients on his list (15000 people, you know) who he knows will be very interested in those Assyrian reliefs, no need to put them on open sale, he can sell directly. The coins he can shift too, to America - nobody there asks any difficult questions. Plausible? You bet. Did it happen? Could have.
The point I am making is not that this is what happened. The point is that one cannot simply dismiss the information of the Al-Bilawi memory sticks because the total sum mentioned is - as Sam said - "unimaginable". One can imagine a plausible scenario - we just did. It is entirely plausible that there are stockpiles of unsold looted and mothballed antiquities somewhere in the region, it is entirely plausible that someone has the keys. We know ISIL paramilitaries have guns and trucks and need to make money. We know they can find a market of plenty people who, presented with good material at a tempting price are not going to ask too many questions and are all-too ready to delude themselves that, as the seller asserts, are from "an old collection, my late grandfather".
That mundane fragment, the Montreal Achaemenid head (21 x 22.5 cm), if real, is valued at 1.2 million Canadian dollars (that's about a million USD). All you need is a truck load of, say, 50 or so bits like that sold cheaper to make the 36 million. The question is, do we think there are warehouses of looted stuff just waiting for an aggressive militant group to find and exploit to their own ends, and if so, is there a shortage in them of pieces whose value on the black (or any other) market is akin to that stated for the Montreal fragment?