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Iraq challenges German auction of Sumerian artefacts


dpa German Press Agency
Published: Wednesday December 13, 2006

Baghdad- Iraqi authorities have challenged the legality of an auction of what they claim are two "stolen" ancient Sumerian artefacts, but German customs officials said the Munich sale had already taken place and could not be stopped. A customs investigator told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that a complaint was received inside Germany and an investigation carried out, but authorities concluded they had been no legal power to halt the sale, which became final on Tuesday.

One item sold was a 227-millimetre-tall, headless limestone statue of a Sumerian man that dates back to 2500 BC. The other was an 117mm-long nail made of clay which bears Sumerian inscriptions dating back to King Shulagi of the Ur dynasty in 2097 - 2095 BC.

They were offered at a Munich auctioneer's rooms and on the internet.

Baghdad appealed to UNESCO to intervene and demanded their return to the Iraqi Museum, al-Sabah newspaper said. Iraqi authorities say that 14,000 items were looted from Iraqi museums following the fall of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The newspaper quoted Bahaa al-Mayah, a consultant at the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism, as saying the ministry had asked the German authorities for information about who owned the artefacts and who was presenting them for auction.

The customs official was unable to provide that information Wednesday.

Abbas Ali al-Husseini, general manager of the Antiquities Authority in Baghdad, told the newspaper that UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) had also been asked to take the necessary measures to stop the auction.

There was also an effort to hold an international conference to shed light on artefacts stolen from Iraq, al-Husseini said.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency