September 16, 2021

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The United States has a “treasure trove” of 17,000 artifacts from Iraq dating back nearly 4,500 years

As many as 17,000 artifacts from nearly 4,500 years ago were returned to the United States and looted in recent decades, prompting unprecedented restoration, the Iraqi culture minister said Wednesday.

“This is the most important source of antiquity for Iraq,” Minister Hassan Nazim said in a statement, adding that “this is the result of several months of efforts by Iraqi authorities to contact the embassy in Washington.”

The 17,000 pieces, mostly 4,000 years old, will travel on a plane carrying Iraqi Prime Minister Moustaba al-Qasimi, who will return to Iraq on Thursday (July 29), after a one-day trip to Washington, where he met with the US president. Joe Biden.

According to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, most of the pieces document “trade during the Sumerian period”, one of the oldest civilizations in Mesopotamia.

The pieces returned Thursday may have contained a 3,500-year-old wedge-shaped clay tablet that is believed to have been smuggled into the U.S. art market as a “stolen cultural property,” and the U.S. Justice Department says it wants to return to Iraq. , But did not specify when he would return to the country.

The clay tablet contains fragments of the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, considered one of the oldest literary works of mankind, and describes the adventures of the mighty king of Mesopotamia in search of immortality.

The U.S. court ruling “marks an important step in returning this masterpiece of world literature to its homeland,” Jacqueline Kasulis, the attorney in charge of the case, said Tuesday.

Iraqi antiquities have been plundered for decades, and thanks to the many conflicts the country has known, especially the 2003 US invasion, the number of pieces stolen from them is incalculable. Archaeological sites, Iraqi experts say. Robbery is usually an organized crime, but sometimes locals try to secure their livelihood.

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Archaeological sites across the country were severely damaged and neglected, and museums were looted during the 2003 US invasion. About 15,000 pieces were stolen from Iraq’s only national museum in Baghdad.

“I hope we can recover the rest of our assets in the future, especially in Europe,” the Iraqi culture minister said in a statement.