Iraq creates task force to probe stolen antiquities

Thursday, July 03, 2008

BAGHDAD - Iraq said on Thursday it has created a special task force to investigate the theft of valuable ancient Judaic manuscripts that later turned up in Israel.

The rare books, confiscated during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, were rescued from US bombing at the start of the 2003 war and then sent to the United States for restoration but later wound up in Israel instead.

At a press briefing at the National Museum in Baghdad, Iraqi Minister of Tourism and Archaeology Mohammad Abbas al-Oraibi said that a working group "will investigate in the US to find out if this is true or not."

Among some 300 precious works are a commentary on the Book of Job published in 1487 and a volume of biblical prophecies published in Venice in 1617, according to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.

Iraq once hosted a thriving 2,600 year-old Jewish community that numbered some 130,000 people at the time Israel was created in 1948.

Iraq has also provided Interpol with a list of the tens of thousands of priceless antiquities stolen from Iraq in the chaos that followed the US-led invasion more than five years ago, al-Oraibi said.

Last month Jordan returned to Iraq some 2,466 artefacts, including gold coins, jewellery and Islamic and ancient manuscripts, stolen since then.

Around 32,000 artefacts were looted from 12,000 archaeological sites after the invasion, along with 15,000 items stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad.

Stolen antiquities found in Syria and the United States have recently been returned to Iraq, while others discovered in Italy will be returned soon.

Iraq has also contacted Spain, France, Turkey, Iran and other Gulf nations in relation to thefts of antiquities.

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07/03/2008 14:35 GMT

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