Iraqi expert accuses West over antiquities trade

A senior Iraqi official has accused the West of not doing enough to stop the thriving trade in antiquities smuggled out of the country's depleted archeological sites and sold in auction houses across Britain, America and Europe.

Dr Bahaa Mayah, a special adviser to Iraq's Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, called for an immediate global ban on the sale of at least 100,000 artefacts that have been stolen since the invasion.

Speaking at the British Museum, he said it was the responsibility of the occupying forces to retrieve the valuable artefacts that had been plundered from southern Iraq's archaeologically rich sites since 2003.

Iraqi ministers are to discuss "imminently" the proposal of a global ban with members of the United nations Security Council, he added. "This is a problem of illegal trade that should be of concern to the international community. We want to strip the commercial value of Iraqi antiquities.

"Our antiquities are scattered everywhere from America to Europe. This problem is not new but it has intensified since 2003 and is now becoming a bigger problem.

"Some countries have co-operated with Iraq but most have not in terms of returning seized items. America is co-operating and not co-operating at the same time. We were grateful when they returned the Statue of Entemena (from 2,430BC) but at the same time, you see auctioneers all over the country trading in our antiquities. No action is being taken," he said.

The aim of the ban would be to leave the plunder – some 5,000 years old and often of inestimable worth – virtually unsellable.

The smugglers are often Iraqis, although soldiers from occupying forces are also under investigation, yet it was demand in the West – America, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Britain – that was leading to a thriving trade in auction houses, he said.

In December, a 4,000-year-old inscribed clay tablet, which authorities suspect was smuggled from Iraq, was pulled from eBay's Swiss website minutes before the close of bidding.

Professor Elizabeth Stone, a specialist in southern Iraqi heritage at Stony Brook University in New York, said Iraq had been depleted of 15 per cent of its ancient artefacts. Ever since Baghdad's National Museum was ransacked in 2003, "entrepreneurs" had set up organised teams to plunder ancient grounds. She said neolithic sites had been heavily looted as had those which contained items from the first Mesopotamian Empire, about 2300BC. "It looks as if the looters know exactly what they are looking for," she said.

Six months ago, The Independent revealed the full extent of the devastation on archaeological sites in the south of the country, committed by organised smugglers and troops.

The black market trade route takes the smugglers to the Gulf and into Britain, where a legal loophole enables them to acquire an export licence from the "free zones" in ports. This licence earns them ownership of the stolen objects. Dr Mayah said it then falls upon the Iraqi government to prove these treasures – which have often lain buried for thousands of years – were from their home soil.

Iraq will be demanding compensation for the damage caused to ancient sites, including Babylon, Umma, Zabalam and Ur, by allied troops who have used these grounds as military bases.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions