CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Iraqi Museum Looted of Priceless Art, Artifacts
Aired April 13, 2003 - 05:28 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We've seen pictures of looting from Baghdad. Government offices, shops, even hospitals were ransacked. These items can be replaced, though.
But our Beth Nissen says the sacking of Iraq's Museum is a far different story.
BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The museum was home to a priceless treasury of some of the world's most ancient art and artifacts. Was home.
After two days of looting, the great halls have been pillaged of everything except the heaviest stone works and columns. Display cases that held examples of ancient Babylonian artistry are empty. On the floors, the broken shards of Syrian and Sumerian pottery that had survived intact for thousands of years, until this week.
Museum curators and guards said they were powerless to stop the crowds of looters, who carried away treasures in carts and wheelbarrows.
"This is the property of this nation, the treasure of 7,000 years of civilization," said this museum employee. "What does this country think it is doing?"
It will be difficult to determine the full listing of what has been stolen from the museum's collections. Museum offices and records were also trashed.
According to the museum's deputy director, looters took at least 170,000 ancient artifacts worth billions of dollars. Many were items like these, seen in a recent traveling exhibit of treasures from the royal tombs of Ur, majestic baroleese (ph), elegant carvings, exquisite jewelry, works in semi-precious stones and works wrought in gold.
Also among the museum's holdings, thousands of inscribed clay tablets, including those containing Hammurabi's code, one of the earliest codes of law.
The Iraq Museum in Baghdad only reopened six months ago. It was closed at the beginning of the Gulf War in 1991.
There were reports that museum officials recently removed antiquities from their display cases and placed them in storage vaults, but museum workers said looters had smashed the vaults or had been let into them, and had cleared the vaults, too.
Archaeologists worldwide were stunned by the destruction. John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art saw scenes of the devastated museum for the first time as he was doing a live interview with CNN.
JOHN RUSSELL, ARCHAEOLOGIST: It may be that some of the most unique or rare objects never went back on display. Oh, my gosh, I'm looking at pictures of things I can't believe here.
NISSEN: International dismay at the looting quickly gave way to anger. Before the war, concerned art historians and archaeologists met with officials at the State Department and the Pentagon, and were promised that the museum would be protected by the U.S. military. It was not.
And in a matter of hours, the priceless remnants of thousands of years of human civilization disappeared.
Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.
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