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Occupation troops involved in antiquities smuggling - official

Saadoun al-Jaberi, Azzaman

Published February 3, 2006

Many smugglers of antiquities in the country sell their stolen items to the U.S.-led occupation troops in the country, a senior official from the Antiquities Department said.

Mohammed Mehdi said smugglers seized recently admitted that they were specifically working for foreign troops in the country.

Mehdi, who is in charge of antiquities in the Province of Najaf, said the smugglers were given badges that allowed them to enter foreign military camps in southern Iraq.

Medhi did not mention the nationality of the foreign troops but said the smuggled antiquities were mainly sold to the troops serving in Diwaniya.

He said police in southern Iraq have recently apprehended seven smugglers on their way to sell 174 precious pieces to foreign troops.

"These smugglers carry badges that give them access to these troops’ camps and sell the relics stolen from Iraqi museums and archaeological sites to soldiers there," Medhi told Azzaman in an interview.

The command of the U.S.-led occupation troops in Baghdad declined comment.

Amid the chaos and political instability gripping the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraq’s antiquities have suffered a great deal.

The Iraq Museum in Baghdad, with the world’s largest collection of Mesopotamian artifacts, was looted along with several other provincial museums.

The government, embroiled in fight against insurgents, simply lacks the resources to guard the more than 10,000 archaeologically significant sites across the country.

Mehdi said apart from pieces stolen from official museums, the smugglers were selling artifacts dug up illegally from some famous, but still unprotected, archaeological sites in the country.

Mehdi said police in Najaf have also apprehended two other smugglers with pieces stolen from the Iraq Museum.

He did not name the smugglers but said one of them was of Syrian nationality.

"Both are linked to an international network of smugglers trading in contraband Iraqi antiquities," he said.

To preserve the country’s heritage and deter smugglers and thieves, Grand Ayatolla Alil Sistani, Muslim Shiites highest authority in Iraq, has issued a religious decree banning dealing in antiquities or their smuggling.


:: Article nr. 20516 sent on 11-feb-2006 01:10 ECT

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Link: www.azzaman.com/english/index.asp?fname=news\2006-02-03\176.htm



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