Donny George, who was president of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, achieved international recognition for his efforts to track down and recover the priceless antiquities looted from Iraq's National Museum in the mayhem that followed the fall of Baghdad in 2003.
But this week he revealed that he had resigned and was in hiding with his family in the Syrian capital Damascus. In an interview with the Art Newspaper, Dr George said Baghdad was now so dangerous that the National Museum, which houses a trove of Sumerian and Babylonian artefacts, had been sealed off by concrete walls to protect it from insurgent attacks and further looting.
After the looting in 2003 US officials were criticised by archaeologists for not securing the museum. The US military has since been accused of damaging a number of ancient sites. Dr George said the work of the antiquities department had also been affected by the sectarian divide in Iraq, with key posts in the culture ministry being filled with loyalists of the militant Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, including Liwa Sumaysim, the minister of state for antiquities.
"The board has come under the increasing influence of al-Sadr," claimed Dr George. "I can no longer work with these people who have come in with the new ministry. They have no knowledge of archaeology, no knowledge of antiquities."