Oberlin professor helps search for stolen Iraqi items

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - When Iraqi looters stole priceless antiquities from the Museum of Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, the U.S. State Department called Yasser Tabbaa.
The government wanted Tabbaa, a professor at Oberlin College in northeast Ohio, to help recover the looted treasures.
The State Department turned to Tabbaa because is an expert in Islamic art and architecture and has visited and photographed collections in the great museums in that part of the world.
Tabbaa, 53, who commutes to the college from his Ann Arbor home, has more than 25,000 slides depicting works in those collections in his office.
The State Department invited Tabbaa to Lyon, France to participate in an international conference with Interpol and the International Council of Museums.
"The upshot of the Lyon meetings was to alert law enforcement agencies worldwide to illicit art traffic and the gravity of the situation," Tabbaa told The Ann Arbor News for a story Thursday.
Tabbaa "had a strong reputation in the scholarly community," said Nicole Deaner, a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
"We knew he'd written and published a lot of material on Islamic art and architecture," Deaner said.
That conference ended with Tabbaa and 11 other experts creating a "red list" of Iraqi antiques at risk - the types of artifacts that would be worth the most on the illegal antiquities market.
The list, which has been sent to border crossings worldwide, includes any object with cuneiform, or wedge-shaped, writing on it.
Born in Saudi Arabia, Tabbaa spent two years in Iraq from 1973-1974 to study the conservation of cultural property. It was the first of 10 visits to the country.
He visited various Iraqi archaeological sites and studied Islamic architecture while collecting Mesopotamian art.
Some of the treasures from the Baghdad museum have been recovered, and estimates vary widely over what was looted, sold, or securely stored elsewhere before Saddam's fall.
Tabbaa said he hopes to be invited to Iraq to help survey the damage to archaeological sites and museums.
"I have great love and affection for the Iraqi people. That's why it's a form of homage and a payback for me to help them track down lost antiquities," he said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)