Looted Antiquities Seized in the United States Returned to Iraq

American officials will return approximately 65 stolen artifacts to the government of Iraq at a ceremony held at the Iraqi consulate in Washington, D.C. today, the New York Times reports.

The objects were seized by the American department of Homeland Security during several ongoing investigations into smuggled antiquities.

The antiquities include the head of a large statue, dating from the Assyrian period, which depicts King Sargon II. The piece, which was seized in 2008 in the Port of New York, had been stolen in 2007 or 2008 from the same ancient Assyrian archaeological site that Islamic State militants have attacked recently (see ISIS Bulldozes 3,000-Year-Old Major Assyrian Site in Nimrud, Iraq and ISIS Militants Storm Museum and Smash 3,000 Year Old Assyrian Sculptures on Video).

Other items, including clay tablets, glass pieces, Bronze-Age spear blades, an ax head, and other ancient weapons dating from the Sumerian period over 4,500 years ago, will also be returned.

Objects looted from Saddam Hussein’s palaces in the aftermath of the American invasion in 2003 will be repatriated too.

According to officials, most of the antiquities originated from a Dubai-based dealer, who tried to sell the objects to a number of New York museums and galleries using forged provenance papers.

“We are talking about a broad transnational criminal organization that deals in illicit cultural property,” Brenton M. Easter, special agent at the Homeland Security Department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, told the New York Times. “It’s very gratifying to get this back when you can imagine what would have happened to it if it was still in Iraq,” he said, referring to the cultural destruction perpetrated by IS militants in recent weeks and months (see ISIS Destroying Iraq’s Cultural Heritage One Site at a Time).

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