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WikiLeaks: 2003-05-14: 03KUWAIT2033: Reported Losses at Northern Sites: In Search of Nimrod's Gold

Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 11:03 AM CT


Viewing cable 03KUWAIT2033, REPORTED LOSSES AT NORTHERN SITES: IN SEARCH OF

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
03KUWAIT2033 2003-05-14 03:48 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 002033 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR NEA/NGA, NEA/PD, ECA 
DOJ FOR BSWARTZ 
DEPT PASS PRESIDENT'S SCIENCE ADVISOR/WJEFFREYS 
DEPT PASS HOMELAND SECURITY FOR BICE/GARCIA 
DEPT PASS TREASURY FOR U/S JOHN TAYLOR 
PARIS FOR UNESCO MISSION 
 
FROM ORHA/BAGHDAD -- JLIMBERT 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: SCUL MOPS IZ
SUBJECT:  REPORTED LOSSES AT NORTHERN SITES: IN SEARCH OF 
NIMROD'S GOLD 
 
1.   SUMMARY.  U.S. forces have stopped the looting by 
tribal raiders at the Assyrian site at Nimrod, about 25 
kilometers south of Mosul; but not before the raiders had 
made off with pieces of an eighth century B.C. stone relief. 
The Mosul museum has yet to inventory its losses, but during 
a 5/10 visit we found several Assyrian slabs taken, and both 
Hatrian and Islamic displays untouched.   The Ninevah site, 
in Mosul town, lost several pieces of seventh century B.C. 
reliefs excavated recently by Italian teams.  In a related 
series of events, ORHA has temporarily stopped an attempt by 
National Geographic photo team to have Iraq Central Bank 
vaults opened and to film "discovery" of Nimrod gold 
reportedly hidden there.  END SUMMARY. 
 
ASSYRIAN PIECES LOST FROM MOSUL MUSEUM 
 
2.   I accompanied Dr. Jaber Khalil, chief of the State 
Antiquities and Heritage Organization, on a trip to Mosul on 
5/10/03 to visit the Mosul museum and the Assyrian sites at 
Ninevah (in Mosul town) and Nimrod (about 25 kilometers 
south).  Dr. Menhal, the regional inspector of antiquities 
told us the museum staff was still making an inventory of 
losses.   So far they had identified about 10 Assyrian 
pieces lost, mostly slabs from friezes.  They believed the 
museum's Hatrian and Islamic collections are intact.   They 
have yet to inventory the losses or damage from the museum 
storerooms.   While the library and card catalogue appeared 
safe, the offices and laboratories were looted and 
vandalized - as happened at the Iraqi National Museum in 
Baghdad.   An older building of the museum remains under the 
control of a political party of no fixed address. 
 
3.   The state of the Mosul Museum's records remains 
uncertain.   We asked Menhal to provide photos and 
descriptions of missing objects as soon as possible, so that 
we could get these items on a red list.   In many cases, 
good photos may not be available, but we should be able to 
get at least a written description of the most important 
missing pieces. 
 
MORE ASSYRIAN PIECES LOST AT NINEVAH AND NIMROD 
 
4.   At the extensive mound that is the ruin of Ninevah, we 
found evidence that thieves had gone after some of the 
reliefs recently excavated by Italian archeologists. 
Looters had attacked, perhaps with pick-axes, a section of 
wall and removed a slab measuring perhaps one foot by three 
feet. 
 
5.   At Nimrod, the magnificent ninth-eighth century B.C. 
Assyrian site about 25 kilometers south of Mosul, U.S. 
forces have been guarding the site for about seven days. 
They appeared after thieves from surrounding villages 
overcame the local guards and made off with two slabs of bas- 
relief, each measuring about 18 inches square.   They had 
attempted without success to remove other pieces. 
 
6.   The U.S. Army lieutenant in charge of the detachment at 
Nimrod said that his unit had previously been guarding a 
looted and ruined sugar factory, and were gratified finally 
to be protecting something of value.  Inspector Menhal and 
regional director of excavations M. Mozahem, added that only 
U.S. forces (or Iraqis from a different region) could 
guarantee security at Nimrod, because even armed Iraqi 
guards feared that killing or wounding an attacker would 
provoke a blood feud and put their (the guards') families in 
danger. 
 
FINDING THE GOLD: POWER PLAY AND PUBLICITY STUNT 
 
7.   At Nimrod, we saw the site where in 1988 Iraqi 
archeologists discovered numerous gold objects - estimated 
weight from 70 to 300 kilograms -- from a woman's grave. 
Since their discovery, the objects were on display only once 
for a brief period in 1991-2.  Mozahim told us he had last 
seen them at the Central Bank in 1998, when he was preparing 
a book on the discovery. 
 
8.   The Nimrod gold and its fate remain controversial and 
divisive.   Feeding the controversy is intense rivalry and 
factionalism within the Iraq State Antiquities Department, 
where the current director believes that his predecessor - 
who claims credit for the treasure's discovery in 1988 - is 
attempting to re-enter the Antiquities Department through 
the back door by encouraging a team from National Geographic 
to press for opening the vaults at the ruined Central Bank 
building and for exclusive rights to film the "discovery" of 
the treasure. 
 
9.   Working with ORHA colleagues, we have managed 
temporarily to stop this effort, which museum officials 
insist is unwise and is in reality a combination of well- 
financed publicity stunt and power play.   Opening the Iraqi 
Central Bank vaults and exposing their contents at this time 
poses very difficult questions: Who can authorize opening 
the vaults?  Who knows what their contents should be?  Who 
will be accountable for lost or missing objects?  And, who, 
on behalf of the non-existent Iraqi government, will be 
responsible for receiving and guaranteeing the security of 
the valuable objects purportedly stored in the vaults? 
 
URBANCIC

 


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