Wednesday, 15 July 2015

More on the Abu Sayyaf Stash

Loveday Morris,  Beirut-based correspondent for The Washington Post has a derivative piece on the 'Artifacts looted during the Iraq invasion turned up in the house of an Islamic State leader',
"The United States handed over more than 400 ancient artifacts to Iraq on Wednesday, part of ongoing efforts to repatriate the country’s looted heritage. But this latest batch has a particularly intriguing back story — the antiquities were seized by U.S. Special Operations forces members as they raided the house of a leader of the Islamic State militant group".
The mission, she says, had been to capture Abu Sayyaf but failed, the target was killed in an ensuing firefight.
But as the commandos scoured the compound for documents and laptops that could provide intelligence about the organization, they stumbled across artifacts  [...] There were hundreds of coins — some of them gold from the Abbassid era, others silver pieces from the Umayyad period. There were stone cylindrical seals from the ancient city of Nimrud and fragments of pottery.
One object gets specific mention:
Among them was a religious text written in Aramaic [...] An official at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad said Wednesday that it was about 500 years old but has not yet been properly dated. (Museum officials also said that, as with many of the items found, they could not be sure whether the text was of Syrian or Iraqi origin.)
So why was the whole lot returned to Iraq? Just because the US is assuaging a national feeling of guilt over the 2003 looting of the Baghdad Museum and other stuff? This manuscript is figured by the journalist:

This manuscript is discussed by Sam Hardy, who thinks it is a fake. Noting the presence of other fakes among the returned items (citing Donna Yates), Loveday Morris adds that the:
Iraqi authorities said that they had not had time to properly date and verify the items, and that it was too early to tell whether any of the artifacts recovered were recently excavated from those archeological sites controlled by the Islamic State. 
One would have thought though that the US authorities, before deciding to hand them over to Iraq, after themselves illegally removing them from Syria (because I cannot imagine the USA recognizes the 'Islamic State') would have done the groundwork. There is one other interesting piece of information given in her account:
Some, though, had been changing hands in the region for years, they said. Receipts that were also handed over with the items documented illicit sales dating to the 1980s, suggesting that if they were Abu Sayyaf’s, he may have been in the smuggling game for decades [Alternatively he could have got them from somebody who had PMB].  [...]  Among the items found in the house were three Babylonian stone seals, which officials said were stolen in 2003 from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad during the chaos that followed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Their museum numbering is still visible. Exactly how they ended up in Abu Sayyaf’s compound in Syria, no one knows.

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