HomeWorldUS announces return of Iraqi artifacts taken from museum during 2003 invasion

US announces return of Iraqi artifacts taken from museum during 2003 invasion


On Wednesday, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced that US investigators would return seven Mesopotamian and Neo-Babylonian seals to Iraq. The stamps are a small part of the 15,000 artifacts taken from the Iraq Museum after the 2003 invasion of that country.

In March 2021, one of the stamps was put up for sale in an online auction, prompting the district attorney’s office to launch an investigation into the object’s origin and provenance. It was soon revealed that the sender of the stamp was in possession of six additional stamps that were purchased shortly after the looting of the Iraq Museum. The stamps lacked documentation showing that they had entered the art market before 2003.

Instead, the pieces were determined to have been smuggled into the US, where they were purchased by a private collector through various galleries and online auctions between 2004 and 2009.

A US tank takes position outside the looted Iraqi National Museum April 16, 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused to blame the soldiers who reportedly stood by as the looting of priceless museum treasures took place, telling a news conference that “it’s hard to stop it.” “.
(Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

The seven objects consist of three seals and four cylinder seals, dating to between the Mesopotamian (2700-2500 BCE) and Neo-Babylonian (612-539 BCE) periods. The stamps would have been used to make impressions in wet clay, with the cylinder stamps rolled over the two-dimensional surface.

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The objects are carved with images of gods, human figures, animals and other cult scenes. Each unique seal served as a personal signature to guarantee the authenticity of an individual or a company.

Douglas Cohen, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, told The Art Newspaper that the tip came from an informant who had read Thieves of Baghdad (2005), a book by Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos about his experience tracking stolen antiquities.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) partnered with the Manhattan district attorney’s office to return the stamps.

“These items were looted by thieves who took advantage of the turmoil of the war for profit without regard to their cultural value,” said Ivan J. Arvelo, special agent in charge of HSI in New York.. “These artifacts…were a fundamental part of daily life in the ancient world. Now, they will return to their rightful home.”

At the time of the invasion, the looting of the Iraq Museum’s collection became the subject of debate over Washington’s ability to maintain order in Iraq as Saddam Hussein’s police and army crumbled.

US troops, the only power in the city at the time, were heavily criticized for failing to protect museum treasures and other cultural institutions such as the national library and the Saddam Art Center, a museum of modern Iraqi art.

Others claimed that US troops did not have a mandate from Washington to act.

Asked to comment on the looting, then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said: “Things happen…and it’s messy and freedom is messy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes.” and do bad things.”

Two US soldiers from the 1st Division, 2nd Bridage, Texas, visit the Iraq Museum September 10, 2003 in Baghdad.

Two US soldiers from the 1st Division, 2nd Bridage, Texas, visit the Iraq Museum September 10, 2003 in Baghdad.
(Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images)

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Since 2015, when the Museum reopened to the public, the debate has fizzled out and Iraqi officials have tried to move on.

A significant moment in Iraqi repatriation efforts came in August 2021, when 17,000 artifacts were returned from across Iraq, including those held by the family that owns the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores and Cornell University. .

Dr. Salwan Sinjari, Iraqi ChargĂ© d’Affaires in the United States, praised the results of the recent research.

“I am grateful for the work of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for their efforts to repatriate these precious and historic antiquities to Iraq,” Sinjari said. “These pieces belong to Iraq, and they belong to Iraq, and will now help the Iraqi people to better understand and appreciate our own history and culture with this connection to the past. This is another example of the longstanding cooperation, friendship and partnership dates between Iraq and the United States”.

Uruk woman's head, Baghdad museum;  also known as the "Sumerian Mona Lisa."

Uruk woman’s head, Baghdad museum; also known as the “Sumerian Mona Lisa”.
(Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

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While some treasures from the museum’s collection have been returned, such as the “Sumerian Mona Lisa,” a 5,000-year-old mask, thousands remain to be recovered.

Associated Press contributed to this report.



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