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Cablegate: Reported Losses at Northern Sites: In Search Of

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 002033

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/NGA, NEA/PD, ECA
DOJ FOR BSWARTZ
DEPT PASS PRESIDENT'S SCIENCE ADVISOR/WJEFFREYS
DEPT PASS HOMELAND SECURITY FOR BICE/GARCIA
DEPT PASS TREASURY FOR U/S JOHN TAYLOR
PARIS FOR UNESCO MISSION

FROM ORHA/BAGHDAD -- JLIMBERT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SCUL MOPS IZ
SUBJECT: REPORTED LOSSES AT NORTHERN SITES: IN SEARCH OF
NIMROD'S GOLD

1. SUMMARY. U.S. forces have stopped the looting by
tribal raiders at the Assyrian site at Nimrod, about 25
kilometers south of Mosul; but not before the raiders had
made off with pieces of an eighth century B.C. stone relief.
The Mosul museum has yet to inventory its losses, but during
a 5/10 visit we found several Assyrian slabs taken, and both
Hatrian and Islamic displays untouched. The Ninevah site,
in Mosul town, lost several pieces of seventh century B.C.
reliefs excavated recently by Italian teams. In a related
series of events, ORHA has temporarily stopped an attempt by
National Geographic photo team to have Iraq Central Bank
vaults opened and to film "discovery" of Nimrod gold
reportedly hidden there. END SUMMARY.

ASSYRIAN PIECES LOST FROM MOSUL MUSEUM

2. I accompanied Dr. Jaber Khalil, chief of the State
Antiquities and Heritage Organization, on a trip to Mosul on
5/10/03 to visit the Mosul museum and the Assyrian sites at
Ninevah (in Mosul town) and Nimrod (about 25 kilometers
south). Dr. Menhal, the regional inspector of antiquities
told us the museum staff was still making an inventory of
losses. So far they had identified about 10 Assyrian
pieces lost, mostly slabs from friezes. They believed the
museum's Hatrian and Islamic collections are intact. They
have yet to inventory the losses or damage from the museum
storerooms. While the library and card catalogue appeared
safe, the offices and laboratories were looted and
vandalized - as happened at the Iraqi National Museum in
Baghdad. An older building of the museum remains under the
control of a political party of no fixed address.

3. The state of the Mosul Museum's records remains
uncertain. We asked Menhal to provide photos and
descriptions of missing objects as soon as possible, so that
we could get these items on a red list. In many cases,
good photos may not be available, but we should be able to
get at least a written description of the most important
missing pieces.

MORE ASSYRIAN PIECES LOST AT NINEVAH AND NIMROD

4. At the extensive mound that is the ruin of Ninevah, we
found evidence that thieves had gone after some of the
reliefs recently excavated by Italian archeologists.
Looters had attacked, perhaps with pick-axes, a section of
wall and removed a slab measuring perhaps one foot by three
feet.

5. At Nimrod, the magnificent ninth-eighth century B.C.
Assyrian site about 25 kilometers south of Mosul, U.S.
forces have been guarding the site for about seven days.
They appeared after thieves from surrounding villages
overcame the local guards and made off with two slabs of bas-
relief, each measuring about 18 inches square. They had
attempted without success to remove other pieces.

6. The U.S. Army lieutenant in charge of the detachment at
Nimrod said that his unit had previously been guarding a
looted and ruined sugar factory, and were gratified finally
to be protecting something of value. Inspector Menhal and
regional director of excavations M. Mozahem, added that only
U.S. forces (or Iraqis from a different region) could
guarantee security at Nimrod, because even armed Iraqi
guards feared that killing or wounding an attacker would
provoke a blood feud and put their (the guards') families in
danger.

FINDING THE GOLD: POWER PLAY AND PUBLICITY STUNT

7. At Nimrod, we saw the site where in 1988 Iraqi
archeologists discovered numerous gold objects - estimated
weight from 70 to 300 kilograms -- from a woman's grave.
Since their discovery, the objects were on display only once
for a brief period in 1991-2. Mozahim told us he had last
seen them at the Central Bank in 1998, when he was preparing
a book on the discovery.

8. The Nimrod gold and its fate remain controversial and
divisive. Feeding the controversy is intense rivalry and
factionalism within the Iraq State Antiquities Department,
where the current director believes that his predecessor -
who claims credit for the treasure's discovery in 1988 - is
attempting to re-enter the Antiquities Department through
the back door by encouraging a team from National Geographic
to press for opening the vaults at the ruined Central Bank
building and for exclusive rights to film the "discovery" of
the treasure.

9. Working with ORHA colleagues, we have managed
temporarily to stop this effort, which museum officials
insist is unwise and is in reality a combination of well-
financed publicity stunt and power play. Opening the Iraqi
Central Bank vaults and exposing their contents at this time
poses very difficult questions: Who can authorize opening
the vaults? Who knows what their contents should be? Who
will be accountable for lost or missing objects? And, who,
on behalf of the non-existent Iraqi government, will be
responsible for receiving and guaranteeing the security of
the valuable objects purportedly stored in the vaults?

URBANCIC

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