The museum was indeed heavily looted, but its Iraqi directors confirmed today that the losses at the institute did not number 170,000 artifacts as originally reported in news accounts.
Actually, about 33 priceless vases, statues and jewels were missing.
"I said there were 170,000 pieces in the entire museum collection," said Donny George as he stood with beads of sweat glistening on his forehead in his barren office at the museum. "Not 170,000 pieces stolen."
George, the director general of research and study of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and the source for the original number, said the theft of 170,000 pieces would have been almost impossible: "No, no, no. That would be every single object we have!"
On Saturday, a team of U.S. investigators from the Customs Service and State Department released a summary of a preliminary report that concluded that 3,000 pieces were missing. And more importantly, of the 8,000 or so exhibit-quality, world-class pieces of jewelry, statues and cuneiform clay tablets, only 47 were unaccounted for.
Today, Iraqi officials at the museum confirmed the U.S. numbers, with a slight adjustment.
The looted items were carted away by mobs who hacked gold pieces from 3,000-year-old Assyrian urns and professional art thieves with glass cutters who knew exactly which Sumerian vases they were looking for.
Of the rarest pieces, George said, "I do not hold out much hope that they will be recovered anytime soon."
Even if the initial numbers were overblown, the museum still suffered serious losses.
Among the missing items is the 5,000-year-old Warka Vase, a three-foot alabaster relief sculpture depicting scenes of everyday life at the dawn of civilization. The vase had been bolted to a podium, Russell said, but looters breached the glass case and ripped the vase from its base.
Also missing is the Warka Face, which, at 3,000 years old, is perhaps the oldest naturalistic sculpture of a woman's face.