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Baghdad's Mona Lisa dug up from 'grave'

Published Sep 24, 2003


Bagdad - The "Sumerian Mona Lisa" came home to the Baghdad Museum on Tuesday.

The 5 000-year-old alabaster sculpture, which topped a list of 30 priceless antiques looted from the museum at the end of the invasion of Iraq, is believed to be one of the earliest representations of the human face, dating from around 3 500 BC.

The Lady of Warka had been entombed for weeks in a Baghdad backyard before her rescue.

Her saviours were a New York police officer and prosecutor who tracked the mask-like sculpture down to a shallow grave.

Captain Vance Kohner, a prosecutor from New York, and fellow New York policeman-turned-Iraq investigator Sergeant Emanuel Gonzalez, spent months tracing the vanished lady through Baghdad's maze of streets and warrens.

The sculpture disappeared about April 9, the day US troops stormed into central Baghdad.

Kohner and Gonzalez, members of the 812 Military Police Company charged with tracking down antiques, both doubted they would ever work on a bigger case.

"This was the No 1.

"With the help of the Iraqi police we found a piece of history," Kohner said.

Iraq's Culture Minister Mofeed al-Jazairi said the Lady of Warka was the top remaining prize in the world's biggest antique smuggling operation, in which thousands of pieces were being hunted down.

Authorities estimate more than 10 000 artefacts are still missing, although about 3 500 have been recovered. Some have been found in Britain, America, Italy and Jordan.

Many were returned under an amnesty programme including the sacred Vase of Warka, a white limestone votive bowl dating from 3 200 BC.

After months of fruitless leads, the breakthrough in the hunt for the Lady of Warka came on September 9 when a teenager walked into a local police station saying he knew someone who had information.

"The juvenile led us to an older man who then passed us on to a man who had the Lady buried in his backyard adjoining a farm," Koehner said.

- Police said a US aircraft fired six missiles into a farmhouse on Tuesday, killing three men and wounding three others. The US military said the fight started after soldiers were attacked.

At the Fallujah hospital, Abed Rasheed, 50, one of the wounded, said he was sleeping with his family on the roof of his house when they were attacked.

- The British government struggled on Tuesday to extricate itself from the aftermath of the suicide of weapons expert David Kelly, as a new poll showed only 38 percent of voters believe the Iraq war was justified. - Sapa-AP, Reuters

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