BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi officials have seized 228 ancient artifacts, some looted from Iraq's National Museum, which smugglers intended to smuggle out of the country.
The senior military commander of Basra, 420 km (260 miles) southeast of Baghdad, said officials had arrested seven men during a military operation on Tuesday. He said they planned to smuggle the ancient treasures out of Iraq.
Thousands of priceless antiquities belonging to Iraq, which is known by historians as the cradle of civilization, were looted in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Much was stolen from Baghdad's National Museum, but many thousands of pieces were taken from some 10,000 poorly guarded archaeological sites scattered around the country.
"Some of them have the stamps of the Iraqi National Museum," Mohammed Jawad Huwaidi, commander of Basra military operations, said in a news conference.
Among the artifacts were 45 statues of Babylonian and Sumerian kings made from mud or stone, along with plates and jewelry.
Army Lieutenant Muneer Khalid said the smugglers intended to take the artifacts into neighboring Kuwait.
Some 15,000 artifacts were stolen from the National Museum during the chaos that accompanied the invasion five years ago, about 6,000 have been returned so far.
Reporting by Aref Mohammed; writing by Aseel Kami