Saturday, 19 September 2009

Iraq, where do the artefacts come from, where does the money go?

Three men have been arrested in al-Abbasi a village southwest of Kirkuk in northern Iraq on charges they were trying to traffic stolen antiquities.The arrest took place in a sting operation two weeks ago where they had attempted to sell one of the looted artifacts for $160,000 to an undercover intelligence officer of the Iraqi Army's 12th division. The operation was set up based on intelligence from local residents. In total the men had eight pieces from the Sumerian period, including the bust of a ruler, though it is not clear at this stage if they had come from theft of items from a museum, or illicit digging in one of the archaeological sites of the region.

It should be noted that collectors often justify their appropriation of the cultural property coming from other countries on the grounds that the "natives" do not appreciate and value this cultural heritage (and therefore the collector is giving them a "good home"). This is by no means the first time that local inhabitants (in this case apparently villagers) had alerted authorities to the dirty dealings of culture criminals in Iraq.

General Abdel Amir al-Zaidi told journalists that the money from the sale of these artefacts was to be used to finance terrorist actions.Gen. al-Zaidi said that chasing terrorists is not the Iraqi army’s only duty these days. Culture thieves need to be put behind bars too.
Alexandra Sandels Iraq: Police bust artifacts traffickers, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2009
Photo: three suppliers of the "ancient art" trade in custody.

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