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WikiLeaks: 2003-05-10: 03KUWAIT1929: Protecting Iraq's Cultural Heritage

Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 10:55 AM CT


Viewing cable 03KUWAIT1929, PROTECTING IRAQ'S CULTURAL HERITAGE: UPDATE MAY 6

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
03KUWAIT1929 2003-05-10 07:32 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Kuwait
This record is a partial extract of the original cable.
The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KUWAIT 001929 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR NEA/NGA, NEA/PD, ECA 
DEPT PASS TREASURY FOR U.S. CUSTOMS 
DEPT PASS PRESIDENT'S SCIENCE ADVISOR W. JEFFREY 
DOJ FOR SWARTZ 
PARIS FOR UNESCO OBSERVER MISSION 
DEPT PASS HOMELAND SECURITY FOR BICE M. GARCIA 
 
FROM ORHA/BAGHDAD- JLIMBERT 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: SCUL PGOV MOPS IZ
SUBJECT: PROTECTING IRAQ'S CULTURAL HERITAGE: UPDATE MAY 6 
 
 
1.   SUMMARY: Ongoing investigations at the Iraqi National 
Museum are revealing the extent of losses from display 
galleries and stores from the early April looting. Present 
reports indicate 38 items, including some well-known pieces, 
were lost from or damaged in the display galleries.  Tallies 
of the restoration and storage rooms are still incomplete 
and may take months to finish. Museum officials continue to 
receive reports of looting of remote archeological sites. 
About 50,000 manuscripts, from another building, are still 
well-protected at a bomb shelter in a residential 
neighborhood, but reports indicate losses at a smaller 
manuscript collection. END SUMMARY. 
 
THE IRAQI NATIONAL MUSEUM: TALLYING THE LOSSES 
 
2.   Continuing work at the Iraqi National Museum is 
clarifying the extent of the losses there. As of May 4, 
investigators from U.S. Customs and the museum officials had 
identified 38 lost or damaged items from among those in the 
museum displays when it was looted. These items include 
famous items such as the Sumerian sacred vase of Warca, 
dated 3000 B.C, and a diorite statue from Ur with a 
cuneiform inscription (ca. 2430 B.C.). Other well-known 
missing items are the heads of three second-century A.D. 
statues from Hatra, modeled on Greek originals from the 
fourth century B.C. 
 
3.   Investigators have not completed work in the Museum's 
restoration room, where a thorough investigation of debris 
may reveal more lost or damaged items. Preliminary results 
show 10 missing pieces and one damaged artifact - the famous 
golden harp of Ur. Museum officials now believe that the 
harp's original golden head had been replaced by a copy, now 
stolen. Some of the best-known pieces still missing from the 
restoration section include three eighth-century B.C. ivory 
pieces from Nimrud. 
 
4.   Museum officials have begun their inventory of items 
lost or damaged from the storage vaults, and the final 
account may take months to complete. First results indicate 
that most items taken from the vaults were small and 
transportable: statues and cylinder seals. Confirming these 
results were the content of a case returned to the museum by 
INC forces, who reportedly found the items at a checkpoint. 
Most of those items were of the sort described above. As of 
May 5, the return of objects from individuals had slowed 
down. Still unknown are the details about objects that 
Jordanian officials have reportedly seized at the frontier 
 
5.   In a visit to the museum on May 5, we found the museum 
officials particularly concerned about the integrity of 
remote sites, particularly Sumerian remains in the south. 
They were especially worried about uncontrolled digging.  An 
ORHA officer reports in Hilla that the site museum and 
expedition house at Babylon were looted, but there is no way 
to know if looters have damaged the site itself. U.S. forces 
have controlled access to the site of Ur, and are dropping 
leaflets warning against disturbing other sites around 
Nassiriya. 
 
MANUSCRIPTS IN THE BOMB SHELTER 
 
6.   On May 5, we also visited the National Manuscript 
Center (formerly the Saddam Manuscript Center), which had 
housed about 50,000 Arabic, Persian, Kurdish, Greek, and 
Syriac manuscripts.  About four months before war broke out, 
recalling the loss of manuscripts in 1991, employees, led by 
Center's Chairman emeritus Ousama Naghshbandi, began moving 
the manuscripts to a bomb shelter in a residential 
neighborhood. The shelter is impressive: a one-story 
windowless block with the precious items secured behind at 
least three heavy steel doors. It would take a very 
determined looter to break in, and the local inhabitants - 
although not on good terms with Naghshbandi - have defended 
the location. 
 
7.   Looters could not break into the barred and bricked-up 
manuscript center itself, located in a 1920s house in 
downtown Baghdad. They did, however, trash the neighboring 
manuscript restoration center, although damage was limited 
to loss of materials, air-conditioners, furniture, and 
plumbing fixtures. Reports from other collections indicate 
that manuscript collections at the Shiia religious centers 
at Karbela and Najaf are undamageed. Looters did, however, 
vandalize and pillage the manuscript library of the Ministry 
of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, containing about 5,000 
items. 
 
JONES

 


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