Skip to main content

Iraqi artifacts going home

By Eric Fiegel, CNN
  • Artifacts were stolen from Iraq after the start of the war in 2003
  • Iraq's ambassador to the U.S. estimates that some 1,500 items were taken from a museum
  • The U.S. is returning items that were discovered during investigations by the FBI and ICE
  • Some of the items date back nearly 4,000 years

Washington (CNN) -- Iraq is getting some of its history back.

During a ceremony Thursday at the Iraq Cultural Center in Washington, the United States returned about 20 items -- some dating as far back as the Old Babylonian era nearly 4,000 years ago -- that were illegally removed from Iraq after the start of the war in 2003.

"The looting of the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad was heartbreaking for every Iraqi; it really was an attack on our very identity." Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Samir Sumaidaie said at the ceremony.

"These artifacts are truly invaluable, and the FBI is pleased to be able to return them to their rightful owner," said Ronald Hosko, FBI Special Agent in Charge.

Some of the cultural items that were seized by the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement included pottery dishes, a necklace and -- from more modern times -- a painting of Saddam Hussein and a shotgun.

Some of the items were recovered in Jacksonville, Florida; El Paso, Texas; and Little Rock, Arkansas, during investigations by the FBI and ICE. In Jacksonville, U.S Custom and Border Protection agents say while examining military containers they discovered AK-47 rifles and colorful painting's hidden behind medical equipment.

The FBI says some of the artifacts, including an oil lamp and pottery dishes that date back to 2000 B.C., were stolen and smuggled into the United States for a bribery and fraud scheme in 2006 by contractors working for the Department of Defense. According to the FBI, two of the contractors were arrested and sentenced to prison.

Sumaidaie estimates that about 15,000 artifacts were stolen from the museum and says about half have now been returned. "This means a lot to Iraq, to every Iraqi," Sumaidaie said.

According to the Iraqi Embassy, among the items headed back to Iraq are:

-- A terra cotta relief plaque, from the Old Babylonian era, of a figure that apparently promoted fertility

-- A painting of Saddam Hussein with a horse, done in 1988

-- A Berretta Silver Pigeon shotgun -- the seal on the receiver indicates this gun was a gift from the Kingdom of Jordan

-- A Saddam Hussein seal commemorating martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war.

-- A gold-etched bead necklace, from some 4,500 years ago, from Southern Mesopotamia, possibly from the royal tombs of Ur.

-- A Christofle silver 12-piece silverware set and chest, with all pieces are with the Baath Party seal.

The FBI's Art Crime Team and ICE say they have assisted in returning over 5,000 items valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars to more than 20 countries.

"I again thank our friends, the Americans, who have delivered once more what we expect from them and what we count on them to deliver." Sumaidaie said.