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U.S. troops guard Baghdad museum

'They should have protected the museum'

Civilians inspect Torah scrolls in the vault of Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad. Looters opened the museum vault and went on a rampage, breaking ancient artifacts.
Civilians inspect Torah scrolls in the vault of Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad. Looters opened the museum vault and went on a rampage, breaking ancient artifacts.

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The looting of Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad has prompted criticism of U.S. forces for not doing more to stop the ransacking.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. soldiers were standing guard Wednesday at Iraq's National Museum, where widespread looting broke out after the fall of Baghdad last week.

On Wednesday morning, a CNN news team saw two U.S. tanks parked inside the museum courtyard and another at a side entrance. Three Humvees -- two with mounted machine guns -- arrived soon afterward.

Signs in Arabic warned, "Under American Protection."

Army 2nd Lt. Erik Balascik said the troops were deployed Wednesday morning to secure the museum.

The area surrounding the museum -- where sporadic gunfire could be heard -- may still be a target for terrorists, the officer said.

Museum Director Donny George said he and his staff were starting to assess the damage. Vandals seized or destroyed archaeological treasures from thousands of years of history in the Tigris-Euphrates basin, widely held to be the site of some of the world's earliest civilizations.

Some cultural experts, including George, criticized U.S. forces for not protecting the museum.

George said that U.S. troops initially stopped looters last week when they first entered the museum. But once the troops left, he said, the looters returned.

"The administrative area is completely destroyed," George said, and with it all the records of the museum's history and its collection.

"They should have protected the museum," he said.

CNN Senior Producer Gordon Robison contributed to this report.


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