ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq's Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday that Baghdad has signed an agreement with Ankara to retrieve roughly 80 ancient artifacts that had been smuggled into Turkey over a decade earlier.
"In the next few days the historical pieces will be returned to Iraq after being stored in the Hatay province museum in Turkey," said Ahmed al-Sahaf, a ministry spokesperson.
He added that the items "were confiscated by Turkish authorities in 2008."
The agreement comes a day after the US embassy in Baghdad announced on Friday that it had provided $4 million to renovate and rehabilitate historic sites in Iraq, including the Ishtar Gate in Babylon, the holy Yezidi temple of Lalish in Duhok, St. George's Church in Baghdad, and the Erbil Citadel.
Following the Iraq war in 2003, untold numbers of archaeological and historical items were looted from various locations in the country, most of which were smuggled to Europe.
More than 15,000 items were taken from Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad alone, of which some 7,000 have been returned. More than 8,000 remain unaccounted for, including artifacts thousands of years old from some of the earliest sites in the Middle East.
The plundering of Iraq's archeological heritage is regarded as one of the worst acts of cultural vandalism in modern times.
Additionally, in 2003, the US military set up a base near Babylon where American and Polish troops were stationed. Archeologists worldwide decried the resulting severe damage caused by heavy military vehicles, construction that destroyed multiple areas and degraded the site’s integrity by shipping in and out tons of gravel and dirt, and direct looting by military personnel and others.
A more recent blow to Iraq's heritage came as a result of the emergence of the Islamic State in much of the country in 2014. The extremist group destroyed multiple historical monuments, archaeological sites, and ancient artifacts, selling and transporting stolen items abroad through territory it controlled in Syria.
Baghdad has recently been ramping up efforts to protect and recover artifacts with the close cooperation of UN agencies and other nations where they've been smuggled to.
In May 2018, US officials handed over nearly 4,000 Mesopotamian artifacts smuggled from Iraq and bought illegally by American arts-and-crafts company Hobby Lobby to the Iraqi Ambassador in Washington.
The roughly 3,800 items included Sumerian cuneiform tablets, many of them from the ancient cities of Ur and Irisagrig and others that were thought to date back as far as 2,100 BC.
In August, the British Museum announced that it had successfully returned to the Iraqi government 156 ancient artifacts that had been plundered since 2003.
The collection consists of clay tablets with cuneiform script inscribed that were confiscated near London's Heathrow Airport in 2011.
“The earliest are early Dynastic administrative tablets and the latest are dated to the reigns of [Darius I] and [Artaxerxes I] but most date to the period between 2100 and 1800 BC and belong to the Ur III and Old Babylonian dynasties,” the Iraqi Embassy in London said in a statement.
Editing by John J. Catherine