Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says criticism of U.S. forces for failing to halt the looting of Iraqi antiquities is what he calls a "bum rap" - a false accusation.
Mr. Rumsfeld says he has been told that most precious items at Baghdad's National Museum of Antiquities were removed for safekeeping weeks before the war began.
But speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, the Defense Secretary says charges that American troops failed to adequately secure the museum would have been misguided even if items had been looted.
He says that would have been tragic but notes U.S. forces had many responsibilities besides just protecting a museum.
"It isn't as though you had one task, you invaded the country to go in and protect a single thing," said the secretary of defense. "You had a complex set of tasks."
Earlier this week, U.S. military officials reported that of the artifacts allegedly taken from Baghdad's main museum, only some 17 items are unaccounted for.