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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Iraqi looting 'a loss to mankind'
US soldiers look at a painting as workers at Baghdads Archaeological Museum carry in some of the recovered items
Some items have been recovered and put back on display

The looting of Baghdad's international museum was not just a loss to the Iraqi people but to the whole of mankind - according to its director of research, Donny George.

The looting was the crime of the century, Dr George told representatives from some of the world's leading museums at a meeting in London.

The meeting, at the British Museum, saw photographs of the vandalism and heard that many of the 170,000 items in the collection had vanished.

The aim of the London summit was to decide what can be done by the international community to restore Iraq's devastated heritage.

Among the missing objects are a 5,000-year-old marble vase and a headless statue of a king.

Another statue of an Assyrian king has been brought back to the museum but in pieces.

Export ban

The world's leading museums have called on the United States to secure the borders of Iraq to prevent further export of looted items.

They also called on the United Nations Security Council to impose a ban on all international trade on Iraqi cultural heritage.

Dr George told the meeting that looted items had already left the country - many taken out by journalists. US border controls were non-existent, he said.

Dr John Curtis, from the British Museum, also briefed colleagues from the Louvre in Paris, the Getty Museum in California, New York's Metropolitan Museum and the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

Dr Curtis, the British Museum's keeper of Near East antiquities, has just got back from a visit to Iraq's national museum in Baghdad.

Offer of support

He saw the catastrophic damage wreaked by Iraqi looters smashed artefacts, empty plinths, and decapitated statues.

The British Museum, which has traditionally had the largest Mesopotamian collection outside Iraq, has already offered expert assistance to their beleaguered counterparts in the country.

One man returned a chest filled with priceless manuscripts and parchments to a nearby mosque
US Central Command

The medium-term goal of the museum community is to get a team of curators and conservators to Iraq within the next few weeks.

British Museum director Neil McGregor told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the meeting would ask what help could be offered to Iraqi colleagues with the advice of Dr George.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell will also be announcing how the UK Government intends to help.

There has been widespread criticism of coalition forces, particularly the US forces in Baghdad, for their failure to protect Iraq's cultural treasures.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Graham Satchell
"They are trying to fill the galleries with anything they can"



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