BAQUBAH, Iraq – When U.S. forces set out to return a collection of beautiful antique furniture worth more than $1 million to an Iraqi government museum, their mission was thwarted by a roadside bomb.
Three weeks later, the rescheduled mission set out again, and this time it completed successfully.
The Victorian-era antique furnishings were found in a Baghdad home that belonged 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 mission, including three truckloads of the 17th Century Italian furniture, was stopped in its tracks when one of the trucks was hit by an improvised explosive device. Thankfully, no Soldiers were hurt, but some of the pieces of furniture were damaged. It was dcided to turn the convoy back and reschedule the mission.
Sgt. Mageen Heffron, an Army Reservist with Company C, 445th Civil Affairs Battalion, made good on her second mission 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 from Saddam’s family more than a year ago, according to Iraqi law. Heffron has worked since then 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 Baqubah 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 preparing to reopen and has a place set aside for the items, some of which are valued up to $100,000 each. Dr. Farsal Muhamed Saletz, the museum director sais the furnishings will be stored until they can be used in a display after the museum reopens.
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 Hussein bought the pieces to furnish one of the many houses he had throughout the nation.
Heffron said the collection would be in good hands with 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, the items belong to the people of Iraq,” Heffron said. “The Baqubah Museum is now responsible for them.”