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Last Updated: Friday, 18 April, 2003, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Hunt on for Iraqi art
An armed guard looks at empty shelves after a mob of looters ransacked and looted Iraq's largest archaeological museum in Baghdad
Baghdad's empty museum
A massive hunt has been launched for the numerous artefacts - some of which date back 10,000 years - looted from Baghdad's museum.

Interpol plans to send an art recovery team to Iraq to try to locate the items, which were taken away in the lawlessness following the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime last week.

The United States - which has been strongly criticised for not preventing the looting - is sending FBI agents to join the recovery operation.

Italy's Carabinieri of the Command for the Protection of Art may also be part of the military force of 3,000 men the country is sending to Iraq for humanitarian purposes, reports La Repubblica newspaper.

Global effort

"There is an extremely high interest in this possibility," said Colonel Ferdinando Musella, operational chief of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Art.

"We are ready to be part of the contingent and are awaiting the decision of competent authorities," he added.

Interpol has already alerted police in its 181 member countries to make border guards, customs officials and auction houses aware of the situation.

Part of beheaded sculpture

There has been a suggestion that the looting of the museum was planned - possibly from abroad.

Anger is mounting across the world at the loss of the ancient statues, manuscripts and other treasures.

Three White House cultural advisers have resigned in protest at the failure of US forces to prevent the looting of the museum.

"It didn't have to happen", Martin Sullivan - who chaired the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property for eight years - told Reuters news agency.

"In a pre-emptive war, that's the kind of thing you should have planned for," he said.

'Floodgates open'

In his letter of resignation, Mr Sullivan - who also heads an historic commission in Maryland - called the looting a "tragedy" and said many other Americans shared his feelings.

His disquiet was echoed by Richard S Lanier and Gary Vikan of the 11-member advisory committee, composed of experts from the art world.

80,000 cuneiform tablets with world's earliest writing
Bronze figure of Akkadian king - 4,500 years old
Silver harp from ancient city of Ur - 4,000 years old
Three-foot carved Sumerian vase - 5,200 years old
Headless statue of Sumerian king Entemena - 4,600 years old
Carved sacred cup - 4,600 years old
According to the Associated Press, Mr Lanier - director of a New York foundation - attacked "the administration's total lack of sensitivity and forethought regarding the Iraq invasion and loss of cultural treasures".

And Mr Vikan - director of Baltimore's Walters Art Museum - criticised the US failure to curb "what is now an open floodgate", the agency said.

As well as the national museum in Baghdad, a museum in Mosul was looted and the capital's Islamic Library, which housed ancient manuscripts including one of the oldest surviving copies of the Koran, was ravaged by fire.

The UN's cultural agency Unesco has called the loss and destruction already suffered "a disaster".

Thousands of Iraqi artefacts were looted during the Gulf War in 1991.

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