The world has seen it before: looters ransack museums in the aftermath of war, and priceless plunder vanishes into a shadowy and highly profitable global network of antiquity traffickers and their customers.
The halls and display rooms of Iraq's ravaged museums and libraries are still littered by the ruins left by rampaging looters. But curators, law enforcement and others are already scrambling to assess the damage, document what's missing and try to recover the pilfered.
Key to the effort, experts say, will be to collect photographs and descriptions of what's lost and spread the word so customs agents, museums and collectors can identify stolen pieces.
''When a very important painting of Manet or Van Gogh is taken from a museum, it is very difficult to put it on sale on the market because these objects are very well known,'' said Mounir Bouchenaki, UNESCO's assistant director-general for culture.
Details on the state of Iraq's museums were still sketchy Wednesday, and Bouchenaki and others were hesitant to speculate on what had been lost or whether the looting had been highly organized. Source.