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Last Updated:  Saturday, 12 April, 2003, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Looters ransack Baghdad museum
Baghdad residents inspect looted treasure
Many precious items have been stolen by looters
Thousands of valuable historical items from Baghdad's main museum have been taken or destroyed by looters.

Nabhal Amin, deputy director at the Iraqi National Museum, blamed the destruction on the United States for not taking control of the situation on the streets.

On Saturday, Unesco - the UN's cultural agency - has urged the US and Britain to deploy troops at Iraq's key archaeological sites and museums to stop widespread looting and destruction.

Armed men have been roaming the streets of Baghdad since the city was taken by US troops on Wednesday.

Shops, government offices, presidential palaces and even hospitals have all been looted.

Call for protection

A museum guard said that since Thursday, hundreds of looters had carried away artefacts on carts and wheelbarrows.

The museum's deputy director said looters had taken or destroyed 170,000 items of antiquity dating back thousands of years.

"They were worth billions of dollars," she said

"The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened."

Reporters who visited the museum on Saturday saw smashed display cases and broken pieces of pottery.

Ancient cities

Treasures at the museum date back 5,000 years to the dawn of civilisation in Mesopotamia, as Iraq was once known.

Ancient archers
Iraq's history stretches back thousands of years
It houses items from ancient Babylon and Nineveh, Sumerian statues, Assyrian reliefs and 5,000-year-old tablets bearing some of the earliest known writing.

There are also gold and silver items from the Ur cemetery.

The museum re-opened to the public six months ago - it had remained closed since the beginning of the 1991 Gulf War.

Iraq is a cradle of civilisation, with thousands of archaeological sites spanning more than 10,000 years.

It is the birthplace of agriculture, empires were in Iraq and the origins of writing have been traced to the region.

Certain organisations, including the British Museum, had called for historical sites to be protected before the current conflict started.

Some of the museum's artefacts had been moved into storage to avoid a repeat of damage to other antiquities during the 1991 Gulf War.

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