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National museum briefly displays its Nimrud treasures

Invited guests flocked to the Iraqi National Museum on Thursday to see the treasures of Nimrud, a collection of vessels, gold jewelry and a gold crown from the Assyrian Empire.

Journalists and diplomats were allowed into the museum to see the treasures, which hadn't been displayed since before the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The museum won't open to the general public for months, and it's not certain whether the famous collection will be on display again then.

This was the first time the museum has been open since its galleries were looted after the fall of Baghdad.

The three-hour event was meant to offer reassurance that the Nimrud treasures were safe, according to a statement by the culture ministry of the Coalition Public Authority.

The treasures were not among those stolen after the war. They were found last month in a submerged bank vault.

The treasures came from the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, close to what's now the city of Mosul in northern Iraq.

The looting that did occur led to an international outcry, particularly from groups that had warned of the need to guard the artifacts, some of which date to 3000 B.C.

The initial reports of the looting proved to be greatly exaggerated. Col. Matthew Bogdanos, a Marine reservist investigating the thefts, said Thursday that only about 12,000 items had been stolen, mostly objects primarily of archaeological significance like shards of pottery and individual beads of lapis lazuli.

He said that 42 display-quality objects had disappeared and 10 of those had been recovered. About 3,000 other items had been recovered, he said, but not the approximately 9,000 that had been stolen from a locked basement storeroom in what was apparently an inside job.

He said that in the storeroom, underneath the wreckage of several tackle boxes containing precious objects, investigators had found the keys to locked cabinets containing one of the museum's most precious collections.

"The most precious collection of coins and cylinder seals was untouched because they dropped the keys in the dark," Bogdanos said of the thieves.

_ Information from Knight Ridder Newspapers was used in this report.