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Advisor resigns while US reacts to limit damage
Posted: Friday, April 18, 2003

-Al Jazeera and agencies

Under mounting pressure after the looting of Baghdad's main museum, Washington announced it sent FBI agents to Iraq to help recover the priceless artifacts.

But the chairman and two members of President George W. Bush's cultural advisory committee have stepped down in protest over what they say is the United States failure to stop the looting of the museum.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said agents had been sent to Iraq to investigate the looting and help in improving security in cities where widespread troubles have been reported since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

"We are firmly committed to doing whatever we can to secure these treasures for the people of Iraq," Mueller told a news conference, without specifying how many agents were involved.

But in a letter addressed to Bush and dated on Monday, Martin Sullivan said he was resigning as chairman of the President's advisory committee on cultural property, a position he had held since 1995.

"The reports in recent days about the looting of Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities and the destruction of countless artifacts that document the cradle of Western civilization have troubled me deeply, a feeling that is shared by many Americans," he wrote.

Describing the looting a "tragedy," Sullivan said that it was not prevented "due to our nation's inaction."

Baghdad's museum was home to the world's great collections of artifacts from early Mesopotamian civilizations. It was ransacked by looters in the upheaval following US troops' entry into the city.

A source close to the advisory committee said two other members, Gary Vikan and Richard Lanier were also quitting.

Sullivan is executive director of the historic Saint Mary's city commission, dedicated to one of the first British colonies in the state of Maryland. Vikan is director of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland. Lanier is director of the Trust for Mutual Understanding in New York.

The 11-member committee is comprised of experts and professionals from the art world who are appointed three-year terms.

Critics have blamed US forces for failing to prevent the ransacking of the capital and other cities.

The US government has offered rewards for the return of the items of assistance in their recovery.

Among the lost items is a collection of around 80,000 cuneiform tablets that contain examples of some of the world's earliest writing. A 5,000 year-old Sumerian alabaster vase, known as the Warka vase, also disappeared.

At a United Nations conference in Paris, experts said much of the looting was carried out by organized gangs.

"It looks as if at least part of the theft was a very deliberate, planned action," said McGuire Gibson, of Chicago's University Oriental Institute, President of the American Association for Research in Baghdad.

Students at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, a centre of research on the region's antiquities, transferred images of antiquities in old Iraqi museum catalogues to the web, to enable border guards, art dealers and others to more easily identify them.

April 18, 2003

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