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Cablegate: Protecting Iraq's Cultural Heritage: Update May 6

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KUWAIT 001929

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/NGA, NEA/PD, ECA
DEPT PASS TREASURY FOR U.S. CUSTOMS
DEPT PASS PRESIDENT'S SCIENCE ADVISOR W. JEFFREY
DOJ FOR SWARTZ
PARIS FOR UNESCO OBSERVER MISSION
DEPT PASS HOMELAND SECURITY FOR BICE M. GARCIA

FROM ORHA/BAGHDAD- JLIMBERT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SCUL PGOV MOPS IZ
SUBJECT: PROTECTING IRAQ'S CULTURAL HERITAGE: UPDATE MAY 6


1. SUMMARY: Ongoing investigations at the Iraqi National
Museum are revealing the extent of losses from display
galleries and stores from the early April looting. Present
reports indicate 38 items, including some well-known pieces,
were lost from or damaged in the display galleries. Tallies
of the restoration and storage rooms are still incomplete
and may take months to finish. Museum officials continue to
receive reports of looting of remote archeological sites.
About 50,000 manuscripts, from another building, are still
well-protected at a bomb shelter in a residential
neighborhood, but reports indicate losses at a smaller
manuscript collection. END SUMMARY.

THE IRAQI NATIONAL MUSEUM: TALLYING THE LOSSES

2. Continuing work at the Iraqi National Museum is
clarifying the extent of the losses there. As of May 4,
investigators from U.S. Customs and the museum officials had
identified 38 lost or damaged items from among those in the
museum displays when it was looted. These items include
famous items such as the Sumerian sacred vase of Warca,
dated 3000 B.C, and a diorite statue from Ur with a
cuneiform inscription (ca. 2430 B.C.). Other well-known
missing items are the heads of three second-century A.D.
statues from Hatra, modeled on Greek originals from the
fourth century B.C.

3. Investigators have not completed work in the Museum's
restoration room, where a thorough investigation of debris
may reveal more lost or damaged items. Preliminary results
show 10 missing pieces and one damaged artifact - the famous
golden harp of Ur. Museum officials now believe that the
harp's original golden head had been replaced by a copy, now
stolen. Some of the best-known pieces still missing from the
restoration section include three eighth-century B.C. ivory
pieces from Nimrud.

4. Museum officials have begun their inventory of items
lost or damaged from the storage vaults, and the final
account may take months to complete. First results indicate
that most items taken from the vaults were small and
transportable: statues and cylinder seals. Confirming these
results were the content of a case returned to the museum by
INC forces, who reportedly found the items at a checkpoint.
Most of those items were of the sort described above. As of
May 5, the return of objects from individuals had slowed
down. Still unknown are the details about objects that
Jordanian officials have reportedly seized at the frontier

5. In a visit to the museum on May 5, we found the museum
officials particularly concerned about the integrity of
remote sites, particularly Sumerian remains in the south.
They were especially worried about uncontrolled digging. An
ORHA officer reports in Hilla that the site museum and
expedition house at Babylon were looted, but there is no way
to know if looters have damaged the site itself. U.S. forces
have controlled access to the site of Ur, and are dropping
leaflets warning against disturbing other sites around
Nassiriya.

MANUSCRIPTS IN THE BOMB SHELTER

6. On May 5, we also visited the National Manuscript
Center (formerly the Saddam Manuscript Center), which had
housed about 50,000 Arabic, Persian, Kurdish, Greek, and
Syriac manuscripts. About four months before war broke out,
recalling the loss of manuscripts in 1991, employees, led by
Center's Chairman emeritus Ousama Naghshbandi, began moving
the manuscripts to a bomb shelter in a residential
neighborhood. The shelter is impressive: a one-story
windowless block with the precious items secured behind at
least three heavy steel doors. It would take a very
determined looter to break in, and the local inhabitants -
although not on good terms with Naghshbandi - have defended
the location.

7. Looters could not break into the barred and bricked-up
manuscript center itself, located in a 1920s house in
downtown Baghdad. They did, however, trash the neighboring
manuscript restoration center, although damage was limited
to loss of materials, air-conditioners, furniture, and
plumbing fixtures. Reports from other collections indicate
that manuscript collections at the Shiia religious centers
at Karbela and Najaf are undamageed. Looters did, however,
vandalize and pillage the manuscript library of the Ministry
of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, containing about 5,000
items.

JONES

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