Takeaway antiquities: art dealers may have 'ordered' looting

London: International art dealers could be behind some of the looting and plundering of Iraqi treasures in the aftermath of the conflict, a key archaeological adviser to the British military said.

Dr Peter Stone, Director of the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University, said he had told the Ministry of Defense that both opportunist looting and the stealing of treasures to order by foreign collectors were likely after liberation.

Dr Stone was speaking ahead of a conference today at the British Museum, attended by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, which will look at the looting of Baghdad Museum.

He advised the military for more than two months in his role as Chief Executive Officer of the World Archaeological Congress.

Dr Stone told PA News how many of the world's greatest treasures could now be lost to mankind.

He fears that priceless artifacts have been stolen for private collections and "removed" from the public domain as part of an illicit trade that has seen such sites as Baghdad Museum plundered.

He said: "It would not surprise me at all if international art dealers had a hand in the plundering.

"I would be very surprised if it were not the case that some of it had been stolen to order - although I have no cast iron evidence of that.

"In initial reports we are getting there are indications that replicas of objects have been left in cases."

His role included identifying key museums and archaeological sites in Iraq, so they could be included on the same list as hospitals and schools which were to be spared from bombing.

Dr Stone added: "What the MOD wanted was sites they should not fire at and that I think, as far as I'm aware, was very successful.

"They were very good at getting these on the no-strike target lists.

"They had been fully briefed that the main danger was immediately post-liberation and that's where they have not been as successful as they, or we, would have liked."

A Ministry of Defense spokesman said: "Obviously the coalition as a whole is concerned about the illegal looting that took place, obviously most notably in Baghdad.

"The immediate priority is to ensure the elimination of any residual resistance. There is still some residual activity and we have to take very great care in this period.

"Our general approach is one of creating a security environment in which that sort of illegal activity is unlikely to take place.

"It's not necessarily just about placing armed guards on every particular site but creating the sense of well-being which would negate that sort of activity.

"We are still in this interim period where we have to be very aware of security and that has to be looked at day by day."

[Source: Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 29Apr03]

War in Iraq and Glabal State of exception

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