Unemployed Iraqis join in Looting of Antiquities

In Babil alone, there are about 1,200 archaeological sites. Falah al-Khafaji, a member of the Provincial Council for Security Affairs, told Al-Monitor, “The local government is serious about increasing the number of security guards in those areas to put an end to illegal excavation and theft of antiquities.”

The Babil province governor, Sadeq Madloul al-Sultani, told the media on March 10, “The national security forces have arrested a person who had 11 artifacts dating to the ancient Romanian civilization, which he had intended to sell to an Arab woman who was visiting Iraq.”

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Babil Provincial Council member Suhaila Abbas, who has been conducting field trips to keep tabs on the affairs of the villages and more remote areas, said that she has visited “several archaeological sites in the south of Babil and found that a lot of graves have been dug up by individuals searching for artifacts.”

Interestingly, many artifacts are not deeply buried, which makes finding them a lot easier. Sometimes rainwater is enough to unearth them, as happened March 3, when rains uncovered 114 artifacts in the Borsippa historical site in Babil province.

It is not easy to monitor the secret excavations. Sheikh Majed Kalabi from Babil told Al-Monitor, “Precious stones and beads vendors are most likely to know the details of such operations.”

Al-Monitor visited Haider al-Yasiri, a precious stones vendor in the city of Hilla in the center of Babil province. But when asked about how he deals with smuggled artifacts, he answered angrily, “There are a lot of [illegal] excavations, especially among those residing near archaeological sites, but I refuse to deal with them.”

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