Iraq Reclaims 1,000 Artifacts Smuggled Into U.S. Over Past Two Years

World

Iraq's Foreign Ministry has welcomed the return of more than 1,000 artifacts stolen from the country's museums and ancient sites over the past two years.

The pieces were delivered to the Iraqi embassy in Washington and would be shipped to Iraq's National Museum for assessment and repair, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

The spokesman said the artifacts were handed over to the embassy officials in a ceremony in which U.S. customs officials took part.

But the sheer quantity of the artifacts suggests that illegal digging and smuggling of Mesopotamian sites is going on unabated.

The fact that all the pieces were removed from Iraq in the past two years and found in America could be an indication that U.S. occupation troops might be involved in the smuggling.

It is not clear whether Iraqi authorities will ask for an independent investigation on how these artifacts landed in the U.S. in the past two years. The spokesman did not say how U.S. authorities had seized the items, or who the traffickers were.

Shortly after the U.S. invasion, looting broke out in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

The national museum in Baghdad was ransacked and at least 15,000 items disappeared.

The looting has dealt the harshest blow to the collections and chronicles of Mesopotamian heritage and civilization.

Up to 7,000 museum pieces are still missing, including scores that are of great historic and archaeological significance.

Several thousand artifacts from those stolen during the chaos that followed the 2003 U.S. invasion have been recovered, but it is the first time such a large number of antiquities is reported to have been stolen over the past two years.

U.S. authorities will not say whether they have arrested any of the traffickers involved in the smuggling of such a large collection.

U.S. officials had previously said that the sale of stolen antiquities was committed by Iraqi "extremist" groups to finance their anti-U.S. operations.

Could it be that the "extremists" were using the U.S. itself as a source for their alleged contraband trade to finance their operations?

Iraqi museum officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said while they were happy with the return of the artifacts, they feared thousands more were still being illegally dug and shipped outside the country.

Iraq has more than 10,000 archaeologically significant sites, some of which U.S. occupation troops are using as military camps including the internationally renowned site of Babylon.

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