News: Million Dollar Museum pieces returned
BAQUABAH, Iraq (March 13, 2006) " After their first attempt was thwarted by a roadside bomb, U.S. forces returned a collection of antique furniture worth more than $1 million to an Iraqi museum.
The Victorian-era furnishings were in a Baghdad home belonging to family members of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Saddam's family was forced to relinquish the furniture under Iraqi law.
On March 9, a convoy, including three truckloads of the 17th Century Italian furniture, was forced to reschedule when one of the trucks was hit by an improvised explosive device. While no Soldiers were hurt, some of the pieces were damaged and the convoy had to turn back.
Sgt. Mageen Heffron, an Army Reservist with Company C, 445th Civil Affairs Battalion, made good on her second try Monday. The furnishings were delivered to the downtown museum without further incident.
"The museum was ready for them, and they have a section set aside," Heffron said. "That day was unfortunate, but the mission had to go on."
U.S. Army Special Forces seized the items more than a year ago, and Heffron has worked to return them to their rightful owner.
"It's been waiting here ever since," Heffron said. "We reached out and hit as many sources as we could to ensure these items belonged to the Baquabah museum.
"We've had some challenges getting (the furniture) out since the museum is not open right now and they've had some struggles finding a place to put it."
The museum is in the process of reopening and has a place set aside for the items, some of which are valued up to $100,000. The furnishings are being stored until they can be used in a display when the museum reopens according to its director, Dr. Farsal Muhamed Saletz.
For his part, Farsal said he was pleased to have the items back under Iraqi control. He was present for the handover and ensured workers carefully loaded the items in the museum's storage area.
"These are very expensive furnishings and lovely antiques," Farsal said through an interpreter. "It is better that they are in a museum as opposed to the other place."
Farsal said the furniture has been in Iraq for about 35 years. Saddam bought the pieces to furnish one of the many houses he had throughout the nation.
Heffron said the collection would be in good hands under Farsal. She said he has been trained by the Smithsonian Institute in archeology, and he is a well-respected scholar in the field.
Soldiers from 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, provided security for the operation, and provided most of the manpower for the convoy. Heffron said the unit had been most cooperative in helping her stage the handover operation.
"At the end of the day, it's their items," Heffron said. "The Baquabah Museum is responsible for them."