Azzaman, November 13, 2007
Tall Asmar, the famous ancient Sumerian settlement, has been stripped of its contents and digging implements, the Antiquities Department said in a statement.
The site in the restive and violent Diyala Province is Iraq's most important and significant Sumerian settlement in central Mesopotamia.
Known as Eshnunna among Mesopotamian scholars, it has given the Iraq Museum its famous and priceless collection of votive stone and marble sculptures representing tall and bearded figures with huge, staring eyes and long, pleated skirts.
"An armed group stormed the archaeological site, handcuffed the guards and stole its possessions," the department said in a statement.
Attacks like these have increased recently amid reports that contraband trade in Iraqi antiquities scratched by illegal diggers from ancient sites was booming.
Eshnunna was the capital of a prosperous Sumerian kingdom bearing the same name.
The quality of items the gunmen took away might not be archaeologically significant but the attack sends yet another signal that the country's ancient history is under real threat.
Iraqi archaeologists, refusing to be named for security reasons, say the authorities normally decline to report attacks by illegal diggers and armed groups on ancient sites.
One scholar said he believed the attack on Eshnunna was made public in order to discredit anti-government rebels still active in Diyala Province.
Most of the country's Sumerian heritage lies in the south where illegal diggers have almost a free hand, another scholar said.
Eshnunna, excavated by both Iraqi and foreign archaeologists, has produced evidence of the high degree of excellence these ancient Iraqi artists had reached.
The finds from this Sumerian capital show a geometric simplification of forms whose ingenuity, esthetics and beauty appeal to modern taste.
Though excavated in the past, Iraqi scientists say many more artifacts are still buried in Eshnunna as only the landmark mounds of the extensive city have been uncovered so far.
More recent news on Iraqi antiquities here:
Iraq asks Britain to return hundreds of missing artifacts
Azzaman, November 8, 2007