Iraq’s top archaeologist says looting of sites is over

The leading archaeologist in Iraq says that sites are no longer being targeted by professional looters. The Art Newspaper spoke by telephone with Dr Abbas al-Husseini, who took over from Dr Donny George as chairman of the state board of antiquities in 2006. A year ago he was removed, because of internal politics, and he is currently working as a professor at Al Qadisiyah University and supervising excavations.

Speaking from Diwaniya, south of Baghdad, Dr al-Husseini told us that although there had been severe looting in Iraq in 2003, this had declined very considerably in 2004 and has diminished yet more since then. “Professional looting has ended, although just like anywhere in the world there may be some occasional digging by children,” he told us.

Dr al-Husseini cites several reasons for the improvement: “Religious leaders have issued fatwas against damaging our heritage. Guards with proper facilities are protecting sites. Iraqi archaeologists have resumed excavating, which means the sites are better monitored.” He also says that the black market in antiquities seems to have stopped, “so looters get nothing for their work”.

In our July-August issue, we revealed that an international team led by Dr John Curtis of the British Museum had visited southern Iraq a month earlier. No evidence of post-2003 looting was found at any of the eight sites they inspected. Our article generated considerable controversy, provoking strong reactions from both ends of the political spectrum.

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