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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Drive to recover Iraq treasures
Looting after the fall of Baghdad
Lawlessness means the looting goes on
Art experts from the Middle East, Europe and the United States are joining with police to work out how to recover historical treasures stolen during the war in Iraq.

The two-day meeting in Rome aims to set up a database of stolen works and create a taskforce of experts co-ordinated by the international police body, Interpol.

The initial tally of items stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad has been scaled down drastically, but looting and digging is still reported to be going on at thousands of archaeological sites across Iraq

A director of the Italian culture ministry, archaeologist Giuseppe Progetti, said general lawlessness meant that Iraq's treasures were still not protected and it was not yet possible to do a proper census of what was missing or damaged.

But Mr Progetti confirmed that the number of important works missing after the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad was probably no more than 40.

Hidden in vaults

Mr Progetti said that in January, before the war broke out, he saw museum staff putting artefacts in safe vaults, and US investigators have recently confirmed that some treasures were also hidden in the central bank.

Mr Progetti is to go to Baghdad to supervise a new reconnaissance mission, the culture ministry said.

Many Iraqis have responded to appeals by Shia imams to return art works under an unofficial amnesty.

At the time of the lootings, witnesses said some of the men carrying the goods away were directed by well-dressed men who knew what they wanted to take.

But British and American officials at the meeting in Rome said there had been no signs yet of anyone trying to sell stolen items of Iraqi art and that many of them were probably still in or near Iraq.

Traffickers in Iraqi archaeological items have thrived since the 1991 Gulf War.

Experts says this is because of growing international demand and an economic crisis in Iraq which has encouraged ordinary people to find innovative new ways to make money.

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