The hunt for Iraq's lost treasure





On April 15, 2003, in the Iraqi city of Basra, an enraged British journalist whose name has been lost to history stormed up to a US marine colonel and his men and denounced them as "macho assholes". The colonel had been looking for weapons and cash left behind by the ousted Iraqi regime, but this reporter believed fiercely that he should be more concerned that "the finest museum in the world has just been looted".

When thousands of antiquities were looted from Baghdad's Iraq museum, US marine Matthew Bogdanos pledged to get them back. After two years of sleuthing, he has become a national hero.

By a peculiar turn of fate, she had stumbled on the one person in the whole of modern Mesopotamia who both cared deeply about the cultural calamity at Baghdad's Iraq museum and possessed the expertise, determination and clout to do something about it. His name was Matthew Bogdanos - a Greek-American classics scholar and a New York prosecutor, whose toughness and tenacity had earned him the nickname "pit bull" even before he went off to fight the "war on terror".

Colonel Bogdanos cannot remember the name of the reporter who vented her frustration at him, but she appears to have set off an extraordinary train of events. Five days after the encounter, he had overcome the objections of his superior officers and was at the gates of the Baghdad museum, heading a mixed bag of volunteer soldiers and investigators, ready to hunt down Iraq's lost legacy.

What followed over the next two years was an epic feat of wartime sleuthing which took Bogdanos along a trail from pitch-black underground chambers and submerged bank vaults in Baghdad to the sleek antiquity dealerships of Madison Avenue, in pursuit of lost treasures with Harry Potterish names, such as the Sacred Vase of Warka. Along the way, more than 5,000 artworks, including unique pieces from the first fluttering of civilisation, were recovered. Bogdanos left active duty in the marines last month, but he is still on the hunt for the thousands of objects still unaccounted for. When he returns to the Manhattan district attorney's office, where he worked before the September 11 attacks, he has permission, he says, to set up a new arts and antiquities unit.



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