Iraq is a great mine of antiquities, with around 13,000 historical and archaeological sites. But today, they lack protection in the absence of law and the deteriorating security conditions in the country, and thieves are free to illegally dig at these sites.
On March 14, the authorities in Tikrit, north of Baghdad, arrested gang members who had intended to smuggle out of the city artifacts from the Assyrian Empire. This incident is only one of many looting operations, Capt. Fadel Abbas from the Babil police told Al-Monitor. He said, “Archaeological sites are spread in vast areas far from cities, which makes it difficult to protect them in the absence of modern surveillance techniques.”
Al-Monitor tried to meet with illegal archaeological explorers, but to no avail. However, although their operations are carefully guarded secrets, some artifacts smugglers are identifiable. Hassan Ali, a social worker from Babil, told Al-Monitor that there are many citizens taking part in illegal archaeological excavations, explaining that they justify the crime with rampant unemployment.
Ali continued, “Some people suddenly got extremely rich in Diwaniyah and Babil. They became known as artifacts traders, but no one dares ask them about this subject. And accusing any individual may lead to tribal disagreements.”
Abbas said, “The security services are following up on those [alleged traders], but they are not doing anything about it for lack of sufficient evidence, and thus everything that is said about them is mere accusation.”
However, he stressed that it is widely known that “since 2003, illegal explorers have taken advantage of the security forces’ preoccupation with terrorism, which allowed them to gain access to archaeological sites that are not protected by the police.”