U.S. returns more than 60 smuggled artifacts to Iraq

Head of Assyrian King Sargon II statue, early Sumeria bronze axe among 65 items returned

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More than 60 Iraqi artifacts illegally smuggled into the United States, including items from Saddam Hussein’s private airport and palace, were returned back to Baghdad on Monday, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has said.

“These ancient treasures we are returning do not belong in the hands of any private collection or any one owner. They belong to the people of Iraq where they will be displayed and protected,” said Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña. “ICE will not allow the illicit greed of some to trump the cultural history of an entire nation.”

“On behalf of the Government and people of Iraq, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to the U.S. Government and HSI special agents (the soldiers behind the scenes), and all those who contributed in restoring this priceless heritage that belongs to Iraq and its people,” said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Lukman Faily.

“Today is a historic day that documents the deep relationship, cooperation and friendship between Iraq and the United States. While we stand here united with our friends and allies, we send a strong message to Daesh and its destruction that we are committed to defeating the terror, rebuilding our country and preserving its cultural heritage. The return of our looted archeological items is a national project and we call upon all countries to help us in preserving this heritage which is not only valuable for Iraq but for all mankind.”

Included in the recovered items was the Head of Assyrian King Sargon II, a limestone fragmentary head of Lamassu, the winged bull, from the Palace of Sargon II.

The ICE said the “investigation identified a broad transnational criminal organization dealing in illicit cultural property. Some of the network’s shipments were directly linked to major museums, galleries and art houses in New York.”

“The investigation has resulted in one arrest, multiple seizures of antiquities ranging from Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan, and the return of many of artifacts. A repatriation ceremony with Afghanistan was held two years ago and future repatriations are anticipated,” the ICE added.