- BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Looters
have sacked Baghdad's antiquities museum, plundering treasures dating back
thousands of years to the dawn of civilization in Mesopotamia, museum staff
said on Saturday.
- They blamed U.S. troops for not protecting the treasures.
- Surveying the littered glass wreckage of display cases
and pottery shards at the Iraqi National Museum on Saturday, deputy director
Nabhal Amin wept and told Reuters: "They have looted or destroyed
170,000 items of antiquity dating back thousands of years...They were worth
billions of dollars."
- She blamed U.S. troops, who have controlled Baghdad since
the collapse of President Saddam Hussein's rule on Wednesday, for failing
to heed appeals from museum staff to protect it from looters who moved
in to the building on Friday.
- "The Americans were supposed to protect the museum.
If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have
happened," she said. "I hold the American troops responsible
for what happened to this museum."
- The looters broke into rooms that were built like bank
vaults with huge steel doors. The museum grounds were full of smashed doors,
windows and littered with office paperwork and books.
- "We know people are hungry but what are they going
to do with these antiquities," said Muhsen Kadhim, a museum guard
for the last 30 years but who said he was overwhelmed by the number of
- "As soon as I saw the American troops near the museum,
I asked them to protect it but the second day looters came and robbed or
destroyed all the antiquities," he said.
- ARMED GUARDS
- Amin told four of the museum guards to carry guns and
protect what remained.
- Some of the museum's artifacts had been moved into storage
to avoid a repeat of damage to other antiquities during the 1991 Gulf War.
- It houses items from ancient Babylon and Nineveh, Sumerian
statues, Assyrian reliefs and 5,000-year-old tablets bearing some of the
earliest known writing. There are also gold and silver helmets and cups
from the Ur cemetery.
- The museum was only opened to the public in April 2000
after shutting down at the beginning of the 1991 Gulf War. It survived
air strikes on Baghdad in 1991 and again was almost unscathed by attacks
on the capital by U.S.-led forces.
- Iraq, a cradle of civilization long before the empires
of Egypt, Greece or Rome, was home to dynasties that created agriculture
and writing and built the cities of Nineveh, Nimrud and Babylon -- site
of Nebuchadnezzar's Hanging Gardens.