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Museums Issue Most-Threatened List of Iraqi Treasures

Seven types of cultural objects are under threat from the Islamic State and instability in Iraq

People look at ancient Assyrian human-headed winged bull statues at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad March 8, 2015. (STRINGER/Reuters/Corbis)
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As the Islamic State spreads chaos and violence throughout Iraq, there have been other casualties — ancient, irreplaceable cultural artifacts. In response, reports the AFP, a group of international museums has created a most-threatened list of cultural objects that are especially vulnerable.

The recommendations come from the International Council of Museums (ICOM), a Paris-based organization that keeps watch over black markets and coordinates with law enforcement to help them spot and track down stolen objects, writes the AFP. Jean-Luc Martinez, who heads the Louvre Museum in Paris, tells the AFP that Isis has been destroying minority populations and “priceless works of cultural heritage” in what he calls “a strategy of ‘cultural cleansing’ which seeks to erase entire segments of human history.”

The ICOM’s Emergency Red List for Iraq lists seven types of objects under threat: everything from stone tablets to ancient clay figurines, alabaster sculptures and Pre-Islamic coins. Though the items on the list haven’t been stolen, they are an overview of the types of goods protected by international laws and most vulnerable to groups like Isis, which has already destroyed ancient artifacts in Iraqi museums and entire archaeological sites in Syria.

It’s the second time the ICOM has issued a red list for Iraq: in 2012, a previous list helped recover 13 ancient Mesopotamian objects that had been looted from sites around Iraq. And when the National Museum of Afghanistan was looted, a similar list helped recover thousands of of stolen works from around the world.

Looting plays a “central role” in financing Isis, writes The Wall Street Journal’s Duncan Mavin. He reports that though it’s difficult to calculate the value of stolen antiquities, officials estimate that they are the second-largest source of funding to the organization after oil.

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