The Atlantic

It’s Disturbingly Easy to Buy Iraq’s Archeological Treasures

U.S. forces invaded the country 15 years ago this week—and left behind a booming trade in looted artifacts.
Source: De Agostini / Getty / Mega Pixel / Shutterstock / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

She can’t remember the exact date of her kidnapping. But it was springtime when the blur of bodies burst into her home, breaking first the silence, then the stone and glass. Someone rushed at her with outstretched hands, grabbed her head, and pulled. She was whisked outside—brief breeze of warm spring air!—then stuffed into a car. A man carried her to the back of a farm and buried her. It was months before the dirt above her face began to shift. Another pair of hands grabbed her head and pulled. Again outside—autumn air this time. Again into a car. Out the window Baghdad appeared, and then, at last, her home: the National Museum of Iraq.

This is the story of the Lady of Warka, also known as the Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia. A priceless Sumerian artifact dating back to 3100 B.C., it’s the earliest known representation of the human face. It was looted from the museum in Baghdad—along with 15,000 other antiquities—in the chaotic aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Soon after, a tip from an Iraqi informant led American and Iraqi investigators to raid

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