U.S. returns recovered artifacts taken from Iraq

Thu Jul 7, 2011 9:39pm EDT
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By Lily Kuo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An ancient bead necklace, terra cotta tablets from ancient Babylonia depicting Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, and posters of deposed leader Saddam Hussein were among artifacts that U.S. officials returned to the Iraqi government on Thursday.

The repatriation of the relics -- some as old as 4,000 years -- is the latest in an ongoing mission to locate more than 15,000 artifacts thought to have been looted from Iraqi museums and archeological sites since the start of the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq.

As Iraq rebuilds and U.S. forces withdraw, events such as these are even more significant, said Samir Sumaida'ie, Iraqi Ambassador to the United States.

"When we repatriate more and more items, it adds to the feeling that Iraq is recovering," Sumaida'ie told Reuters.

The relics included clay pottery and plaques dating back to 2000 to 1600 BC depicting day-to-day scenes and Mesopotamian gods. At a Christie's auction, agents found a bead necklace dating back to 2500 BC, possibly from the royal tombs of Ur, an ancient Sumerian city.

A 2006 FBI task force investigated defense contractors suspected of bribery and fraud also discovered some were also collecting and smuggling Iraqi artifacts into the United States.

Through the investigation, agents discovered the terra cotta pieces which the FBI Art Crime Team verified as authentic.

"In addition to identifying a significant contract fraud scheme, we get to return to the people of Iraq these priceless, ancient artifacts," said Ronald Hosko, Special Agent in Charge of the Criminal Division at the FBI's Washington Field Office.   Continued...