The AP is reporting on the views of Marine Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, a participant in this weeks conference in Athens. Bogdanos is a New York assistant DA, and was instrumental in the efforts by US forces to undo much of the damage and looting which occurred when the invasion began.
He argued it was “undeniable” that extremist groups were using antiquities smuggling to gain funds. As he said, “the Taliban are using opium to finance their activities in Afghanistan… Well, they don’t have opium in Iraq, what they have is an almost limitless supply of is antiquities. And so they’re using antiquities.” He even has heard from sources that Hezbollah is taxing antiquities.
The claim is open to speculation of course, because so much of the trade is hidden. However Bogdanos is a passionate and thoughtful advocate for the protection of Iraq’s national heritage, and as such the Pentagon and World leaders would be wise to listen. The more attention the looting problem in Iraq receives the better. Unfortunately, the US and Europe are doing very little to prevent this smuggling or to protect archaeological sites in Iraq.
Sadly, I think antiquities from this region will be appearing on the market for decades to come, and as such buyers, who should perhaps know better, will be confronted with the same embarrassing legal and ethical questions which have plagued North American institutions in recent years in their acquisitions of antiquities from Southern Italy. Of course they can avoid this controversy by refusing to purchase potentially tainted objects.