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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 August 2006, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Leading Iraq archaeologist flees
By Mike Wooldridge
BBC News, Baghdad

Donny George with UK Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell in 2003
Donny George (right) championed Iraq's art around the world
Iraq's most prominent archaeologist has fled the country and is reported to have said poor security and political pressures forced him out.

Donny George, a Christian, is well known internationally for his efforts to recover Iraq's looted antiquities.

He has said pressure to follow a radical Islamic agenda in the preservation of Iraqi antiquities made his position impossible.

But an Iraqi minister has challenged Mr George's reasons for leaving.

His account of fleeing Iraq comes in a publication called the Art Newspaper. He is reported to have told the paper that he is now in Syria with his family.

US soldiers look at a painting as workers at Baghdad's Archaeological Museum carry in some of the recovered items
Some looted items were returned under Dr George's leadership

Mr George is also said to have told the paper the Iraqi state board of antiquities and heritage, which he presided over, had come under the increasing influence of supporters of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr, and he had been trying to counter a growing Islamist and anti-Western agenda.

He claimed that people had been put into the antiquities department who were interested only in Islamic sites and not in Iraq's rich earlier heritage.

But these and other reported grievances are being vigorously contested by Iraq's minister of state for antiquities, Liwa Sumaysim, a member of Moqtada al Sada's party.

"These are lies," he said.

The minister insisted that he was interested in all of the archaeology and antiquities of Iraq, not only its Islamic heritage.

And he rejected Mr George's reported claim that the 1400-strong special antiquities protection force was running out of funding, risking further looting at Iraq's thousands of archaeological sites.

The minister said Mr George had left Iraq without telling him, and despite their differences, he said he would be welcome back.


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