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In this scenario, like something out of Agatha Christie – 'Museum Heist in Mesopotamia' – the art thieves were simply lucky that a wave of Ali Babas streamed in behind them, obscuring their tracks.The looters still scavenging everywhere in Baghdad are the real unforeseen consequence of this war.If the international outcry following the attack on the museum had not been so great, perhaps we'd never have discovered any part of this story and sophisticated art thieves would have succeeded in blaming the looters for their well-planned raid.The original Ali Baba story turned on knowing the password for the cave where gold and precious stones were hidden: 'Open Sesame'.Locals are so ashamed of the destruction that an urban myth has sprung up that the looting was carried out not by Iraqis but by Kuwaitis.

In the next room there are desks and laptops, powered by a throbbing generator, and a table with all the material recovered during the investigation – more than 1500 items by the beginning of June. Some were returned by looters, some by concerned citizens who took them to protect them from looters and others following tip-offs.For it was in Iraq man first depicted the human form, first wrote down an alphabet, first codified a set of laws – where the punishment for theft was the cutting off of a hand.It's here that Abraham is believed to have been born, just to clarify that all this happened before Old Testament times.Journalists were shown the research department, which trashed – doors gouged open with axes, tables overturned and smashed, safes emptied, and papers torn and destroyed.George walks down a vandalised corridor to his office.A glass stands on the desk and when a woman comes to take it away, George argues with her for some time.'She wants to take the glass, it belongs to the director.Bogdanos says the fact that the research department was trashed while there is remarkably little destruction in the galleries is 'perhaps because the Iraqi people strongly identified the museum administration with the prior regime. Once we'd started work, we located a box of priceless books and manuscripts from the museum in a bomb shelter in west Baghdad.Local residents did not wish us to return it to the museum because of its perceived association with the Ba'ath Party.' (The Americans' negotiated solution was to take an inventory of the goods and leave them in the bomb shelter for the locals to guard under a 24-hour neighbourhood watch.) Bogdanos's 15-man team is camped out in another section of the museum.The looters followed in the footsteps of people with keys.'We found keys on the floor,' admits George as I follow him into the squat sandstone museum building.

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