The United States today stepped up efforts to stop the Islamic State’s trade in looted antiquities as President Barack Obama signed into law new import restrictions on Syrian cultural artifacts.
The bill passed the House and Senate last month. Its proponents argue that Islamic State and other militants have made millions of dollars selling irreplaceable artifacts on the black market, with buyers in America part of the market for the stolen goods. The profits have helped fund violence.
The new law prevents “archaeological or ethnological material” removed from Syria from being imported into the United States or sold in the country. Possible exceptions apply, such as when rightful owners want to temporarily relocate cultural property to the US for protection.
The UN Security Council previously has called on governments worldwide to help shut down IS’ funding sources by restricting commerce in Iraqi and Syrian antiquities. “We need to do all we can to cut off resources for this terrorist group,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Democrat, who sponsored the legislation.
The restrictions remain in effect as long as Syria’s five-year civil war persists and until the U.S. can reach an agreement with Syria on protecting cultural property. Neither prospect looks likely anytime soon.
The US has been struggling to implement a truce in the Arab country that would end fighting between the government and more moderate rebel groups. Even if the violence stops, the fight against the Islamic State will continue. And the U.S. is unlikely to make any deal with Syria’s government as long as President Bashar Assad remains in power.