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Like the museum, the libraries are belatedly under guard--in this case by Syed Munem El-Musawi, imam of the Imam Ul Huq Ali Mosque, and a group of Kalashnikov-toting volunteers from the impoverished Sadr City area of Baghdad, known until the city's liberation as Saddam City. It is from here that many of the looters came as well, and, says Ahmad Khalaf, 26, a software-engineering student, "we want to show the world that not everybody from our neighborhood is a thief and a looter."
When the situation stabilizes, experts from UNESCO and the British Museum will fly to Baghdad to help local authorities assess the losses in detail. UNESCO has also issued a set of recommendations, including a prohibition on the export of antiques, antiquities, works of art, books and archives from Iraq, and an immediate ban on the international trade in objects of Iraqi cultural heritage. Others have suggested amnesties and rewards for returned art, crackdowns at border checkpoints and websites identifying the missing objects. Meanwhile, the FBI has assigned 25 agents in the region to assist in the recovery effort and plans to send others who are experts in tracking stolen art. "We are firmly committed to doing whatever we can to secure the return of these treasures to the people of Iraq," asserted FBI Director Robert Mueller.
And the people of Iraq evidently care about them quite a bit. By the end of last week, some of the looters had repented and returned artifacts to the museum. Even in the middle of war, after decades of brutalization by Saddam Hussein's regime, ordinary Iraqis have a fierce pride in their nation's history. Mazen Ahmad, 64, who sells eggs a few blocks from the Iraq Museum, says he has never been inside, but he takes the loss very personally. "Our history was in that building. It was the soul of Iraq," he says. "If the museum doesn't recover the looted treasures, I will feel like a part of my own soul has been stolen." --Reported by Andrea Dorfman/New York, Aparisim Ghosh/Baghdad, Adam Smith/London, Grant Rosenberg/Paris and Elaine Shannon/Washington