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House sends bill to Obama limiting ISIS profits from cultural destruction

The House sent legislation to President Obama’s desk on Tuesday that would help prevent the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from profiting from damaged or stolen cultural artifacts.

The measure, which cleared easily by voice vote, would restrict U.S. imports on archaeological material from Syria since the start of its civil war. The U.S. already has a similar prohibition for Iraq.

However, the bill allows exemptions for temporarily moving specific cultural objects to the U.S. for protection. 

{mosads}Proponents said the legislation would limit the ability of ISIS to destroy cultural sites as a means of cultural cleansing and sell artifacts on the black market to reap millions in profits.

“It’s actually heartbreaking. These fanatics literally want to wipe away history,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and author of the bill.  

ISIS militants have targeted historical sites in war zones such as the prophet Jonah’s tomb in Mosul and the Assyrian capital of Nimrud, using tools like bombs and bulldozers to tear them down. 

The House first passed the bill last June, but re-approved it on Tuesday with changes made by the Senate this month.

The original measure would have required the State Department to create a position for coordinating government efforts to protect cultural property. But the amended version merely states a sense of Congress that the president establish a committee to coordinate agencies’ efforts. 

The U.S. has made similar efforts to counter cultural destruction in the past. During World War II, the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration created a commission advising the military on protecting cultural property stolen by the Nazis. The work of that commission, known as the “Monuments Men,” became the subject of a recent George Clooney film. 

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