I was also told that the bank vault had been raided during the last days of the regime by one of Saddam's sons, and the bank building had then been destroyed by US missiles, leading to the vaults being flooded. When I went to see them, however, the vaults looked intact and the doors still locked - but the Iraqi guardians of the vaults at first refused to open them. Eventually they relented, and so far five cases have been found and key treasures identified - including the Nimrud treasure and the golden bull's head from Ur.
'What actually survives at the museum could take years to establish'
What actually survives at the museum could take years to establish - and it does seem that some of the thefts were to some degree an inside job. In addition, it seems likely that certain items could have been removed from the museum years ago by members of the Ba'ath Party. Museum staff may not have been involved, would have been powerless to stop it, and could now be ashamed of their failure to protect national treasures. This could explain why many staff members give contradictory accounts of what has gone on - they are attempting to use the confusion created by the current looting to disguise old losses. The fog of war can sometimes be very convenient.
The British government, the British Museum and UNESCO are all now offering help to the Iraq Museum. It seems to me that they should be very cautious. The museum is too important to the Iraqi people - to us all - to be left in the hands of people whose past is murky and mysterious. An International Commission must be established to secure the museum and to plan its future.