Security, looting and war damage

Looting took place in the days following. It was reported that the National
Museum of Iraq was among the looted sites. The assertion that US forces did
not guard the museum because they were guarding the Ministry of Oil and
Ministry of Interior is apparently true. According to U.S. officials the "reality of
the situation on the ground" was that hospitals, water plants, and ministries with
vital intelligence needed security more than other sites. There were only
enough US troops on the ground to guard a certain number of the many sites
that ideally needed protection, and so, apparently, some "hard choices" were
made. Also, it was reported that many trucks of purported Iraqi gold and $1.6
billion of bricks of US cash were seized by US forces.
The FBI was soon called into Iraq to track down the stolen items. It was found
that the initial claims of looting of substantial portions of the collection were
heavily exaggerated. Initial reports claimed a near-total looting of the museum,
estimated at upwards of 170,000 pieces. The most recent estimate places the
number of looted pieces at around 15,000. Over 5,000 looted items have since
been recovered.

There has been speculation that some objects still missing were not taken by
looters after the war, but were taken by Saddam Hussein or his entourage
before or during the fighting. There have also been reports that early looters
had keys to vaults that held rarer pieces, and some have speculated as to the
pre-meditated systematic removal of key artifacts.

The National Museum of Iraq was only one of many museums and sites of
cultural significance that were affected by the war. Many in the arts and
antiquities communities briefed policy makers in advance of the need to secure
Iraqi museums. Despite the looting being lighter than initially feared, the cultural
loss of items from ancient Sumeria is significant.

More serious for the post-war state of Iraq was the looting of cached weaponry
and ordnance which fueled the subsequent insurgency. As many as 250,000
tons of explosives were unaccounted for by October 2004. Disputes within the
US Defense Department led to delays in the post-invasion assessment and
protection of Iraqi nuclear facilities. Tuwaitha, the Iraqi site most scrutinized by
UN inspectors since 1991, was left unguarded and may have been looted.

Zainab Bahrani, professor of Ancient Near Eastern Art History and Archaeology
at Columbia University, reported that a helicopter landing pad was constructed
in the heart of the ancient city of Babylon, and "removed layers of archeological
earth from the site. The daily flights of the helicopters rattle the ancient walls
and the winds created by their rotors blast sand against the fragile bricks.
When my colleague at the site, Maryam Moussa, and I asked military personnel
in charge that the helipad be shut down, the response was that it had to remain
open for security reasons, for the safety of the troops." Bahrani also reported
that in the summer of 2004, "the wall of the Temple of Nabu and the roof of the
Temple of Ninmah, both sixth century BC, collapsed as a result of the
movement of helicopters." Electrical power is scarce in post-war Iraq, Bahrani
reported, and some fragile artifacts, including the Ottoman Archive, would not
survive the loss of refrigeration.