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A top curator at Kuwait's National Museum said its $1 billion collection of Islamic art treasures may be lost forever, and he hopes other museum curators will step forward and help replace the once-renowned collection.

More than 30,000 items of Islamic art and artifacts dating from the 8th century were hauled to Baghdad last September, said Fahad al-Wohaibi, assistant director of the museum. The 17 truckloads of artwork taken to Iraq represented the history of the Islamic world and many of its most priceless artistic treasures, he said."This museum was a treasure for the whole world," Wohaibi said.

The museum would welcome financial help or pieces of Islamic art from other museums to help it rebuild its shattered collection, Wohaibi said.

"No museums have so far come forward to help us," he said. "I'm hoping that will change, but I want them to take the initiative."

Last week, Kuwaiti officials asked the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations to help prevent the illegal sale of stolen Kuwaiti artworks.

Kuwait fears many pieces of the museum's estimated $1 billion collection will be sold on Baghdad's streets like cheap souvenirs, or that the Iraqis will try to sell them on the world art market.

The tiny gulf emirate has asked UNESCO to assist in recovering pieces under the 1970 convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property.

In a statement released in Paris, UNESCO officials said Tuesday they would supply further details on the missing art to Interpol, the International Council of Museums, the International Commission on Monuments and Sites and the International Foundation for Art Research in New York.

In late May, Iraqi cultural officials told a U.N. delegation visiting Baghdad that Kuwait's collection would soon be returned. Wohaibi said he is not confident this will occur.

"The Iraqis have made no effort to apologize for the damage they've caused or to return any items," he said. "We don't think we will ever see the entire collection again."

Most of the museum's collection was assembled over a 15-year period by a Kuwaiti royal couple, Sheik Nasser al-Sabah and his wife Sheika Hussa. Their collection was said to be the largest private collection of its kind in the world.

The collection was housed in the museum's four distinctive pink brick buildings. The collection included more than 8,000 rare coins, 10,000 rare books and 7,000 ceramic items. It also included countless tapestries, ivory carvings, glassware and metalwork as well as manuscripts from throughout the Islamic world.

The museum was systematically plundered by a team of seven Iraqi curators led by Muaid Said, the Harvard-educated head of Iraq's museums, who entered the museum Sept. 27, 1990, and pilfered most of the museum's items, including thousands in storage, Wohaibi said.

Only 114 items involved in a rare exchange with the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad were spared from the Iraqi plunderers. Those pieces are now sitting in the United States, pending reconstruction of the museum.

Six months after the visit of the Iraqi curators, just days before the allied ground assault, Iraqi soldiers set fire to the galleries, destroying almost all of the items Said and his team left behind.

The losses were devastating: crystal chess pieces crafted in Egypt during the 10th century, pages from a 7th century Koran and a large collection of pure wool carpets from Turkey and Persia dating back more than 500 years.

Additional information

Court sentences 3 more to die

Kuwait's war court Sunday sentenced three people in absentia to die by hanging for collaboration with Saddam Hussein's occupation forces.

The three men, of unknown nationality, were charged with stealing and cooperating with the Iraqis. They fled Kuwait shortly after liberation and have been at large since.

The verdicts Sunday bring to 12 the number of people sentenced to hang since the politically charged trials began three weeks ago. About 250 people have appeared before the five-judge war crimes panel, which is scheduled to hear 440 cases until July 27, when martial law is expected to end.

Jordan appealed Monday for immediate international intervention to save Jordanian nationals sentenced to death by a Kuwaiti court for alleged collaboration with Iraq's occupation army and to halt further trials.

"We feel very bitter and dismayed about what is happening in Kuwait," Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Mutassem Bilbeissi told Reuters. "We cannot believe what is happening there."

910617 EMMIE ;06/17,15:18 1headline

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