Smuggled Antiquities Funding Iraq Extremists, U.S. Says

Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece
Associated Press
March 19, 2008

The smuggling of stolen antiquities from Iraq's rich cultural heritage is helping finance Iraqi extremist groups, says the U.S. investigator who led the initial probe into the looting of Baghdad's National Museum.

Marine Reserve Colonel Matthew Bogdanos claimed both Sunni insurgents—such as al-Qaida in Iraq—and Shiite militias are receiving funding from the trafficking.

Bogdanos, a New York assistant district attorney, noted that kidnappings and extortion remain the insurgents' main source of funds. But he said the link between extremist groups and antiquities smuggling in Iraq was "undeniable."

"The Taliban are using opium to finance their activities in Afghanistan," Bogdanos told the Associated Press in an interview during a two-day UNESCO-organized conference that ended Tuesday on returning antiquities to their country of origin.

"Well, they don't have opium in Iraq," he said. "What they have is an almost limitless supply of is antiquities. And so they're using antiquities."

No Direct Links, "Totally Secret"

He did not provide details on whether he believes factions in Iraq were actively engaged in smuggling or simply forcing payments from traffickers, whose networks often follow overland routes to Jordan and Syria and then onto cities such as Beirut (photo), Dubai, or Geneva.

But such suspicions of insurgent links to antiquity smuggling have drawn mixed opinions in the past from experts.

In 2005, Donny George, then director of Iraq's National Museum, said the sale of looted artifacts was helping insurgent groups buy "weapons and ammunition to use against Iraqi police and American forces."

In raids in 2006, Marines arrested a group of suspected insurgents in underground bunkers where they found weapons, ammunition, and uniforms alongside vases, cylinder seals, and statuettes that had been stolen from the National Museum.

Antonia Kimbell, an art trade manager at The Art Loss Register—which maintains a database on stolen, missing, and looted art—said she had yet to see concrete evidence connecting the trade in illegal antiquities and insurgent financing.

"We haven't come across a direct link," she said.

Continued on Next Page >>



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