Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, the investigator of the 2003 looting of the Baghdad Museum, claims that the traffic in looted antiquities is funding insurgents and militias in Iraq.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. The smuggling networks that transport antiquities out of Iraq seem to have generated an underground tariff system across the Middle East, with Hezbollah “taxing” antiquities that pass through territory under its control.
Bogdanos, a New York assistant district attorney, noted that kidnappings and extortion remain the insurgents’ main source of funds. But he said the link between extremist groups and antiquities smuggling in Iraq was “undeniable.”
“The Taliban are using opium to finance their activities in Afghanistan,” Bogdanos told The Associated Press in an interview during a two-day UNESCO-organized conference that ended Tuesday on returning antiquities to their country of origin.
“Well, they don’t have opium in Iraq,” he said. “What they have is an almost limitless supply of is antiquities. And so they’re using antiquities.”
He did not provide details on whether he believes factions in Iraq were actively engaged in smuggling or simply forcing payments from traffickers, whose networks often follow overland routes to Jordan and Syria and then onto cities such as Beirut, Dubai or Geneva.
None of this existed before 2004. Just another unplanned side-effect of the invasion of Iraq 5 years ago today.