Organized gangs of international art smugglers were behind the looting of Baghdad’s National Museum, not ordinary Iraqis citizens. Professor McGuire Gibson from Chicago University says the thieves knew what they were looking for and where to find it, and even had keys to the vaults. “It looks as if part of the looting was a deliberate planned action,” he says. “They were able to take keys for vaults and were able to take out important Mesopotamian materials put in safes. I have a suspicion it was organized outside the country, in fact I’m pretty sure it was.” Some of the art has already turned up in Paris and Iran.

Gibson says, “Probably [it was done] by the same sorts of gangs that have been paying for the destruction of sites in Iraq over the last 12 years and the smuggling out of these objects into the international market.” Unesco’s director general Koichiro Matsuura has called for an immediate ban on the international trade in Iraqi antiquities. A website with pictures of stolen items is being set up, so items can be quickly identified.

Some of Iraq’s most prized treasures were hidden in the vaults of the national bank before the war, but right now, no one knows if those vaults were looted as well.

The U.S. military wasn’t aware that the museum looting was organized, since it looked random to them. “I have no knowledge of what looters used to get access to the museums, but it was a terrible loss to all of humanity, and we are working with the Iraqi people to find those responsible,” says Navy Lt. Herb Josey. Gibson says that if a good police team is put on the case of the international smugglers, “I think it could be cracked in no time.”

Our history is more mysterious than we think.

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