London, April 29 (Reuters): Archaeologists from around the world vowed to help Iraq rebuild its shattered national heritage at a meeting in London today.
Curators from St Petersburg, Berlin, Paris and New York flew to London to meet Donny George, research director of the Iraq Museum, and offer practical help in tracking down looted treasures and restoring damaged antiquities.
The Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, which housed priceless artefacts from ancient Mesopotamia, was ransacked in a wave of looting that swept the Iraqi capital after the fall of President Saddam Hussein.
“This is without question the greatest disaster for a national collection since the Second World War,” said Dr Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum.
He acknowledged there was a flourishing trade in Mesopotamian antiquities from the cradle of civilisation.
Antiquity experts believe organised criminal gangs may have been behind some of the looting.
Interpol has launched a worldwide hunt for priceless Iraqi antiquities and warned art collectors not to buy art treasures they suspect are stolen.
MacGregor told BBC Radio: “I know Dr George will be urging the British and American governments to take steps to stop that elusive trade and enable us to identify these objects and have them returned.”
British and US forces have been criticised by Iraq’s museum staff and antiquities experts for failing to protect museums and archaeological sites.