Iraq. New plan to retrieve stolen antiquities

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By Zaynab Khudair.
Azzaman, January 22, 2009.

The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has drawn up a new plan to retrieve “all the antiquities that have been stolen,” according to the minister, Qahatan al-Jibouri.

Jibouri, whose ministry is in charge of the Antiquities Department, said the return of smuggled and stolen Iraqi relics as well as the protection of Iraqi ancient sites was a top priority.

The relative quiet in the country has encouraged the government to draw the plan which among other things calls for the deployment of guards to protect endangered Mesopotamian sites.

Jibouri said all Iraqi ministries would be involved in the program under which no government authority will be allowed to encroach on mounds and areas containing debris of ancient civilizations.

Government bodies will also help in safeguarding these areas, Jibouri added.

The details of the plan have yet to be worked out, but archaeologists say it is the first serious effort in post-U.S. invasion to preserve the country’s ancient heritage.

As for the return of stolen antiquities, the ministry will give financial benefits to persons handing the finds in their possession to the Antiquities Department.

Thousands of antiquities, among them some priceless relics, are still missing following the looting of the Iraq Museum shortly after the U.S. invasion.

It is believed that thousands more have been recovered from ancient sites through illegal digging at some of the most fabulous and renowned ancient cities like Babylon, Ur, Nimrud and Ashur.

Iraq has more than 10,000 archaeologically significant sites and it needs an army of guards for their protection.

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