ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The British Museum announced on Friday that it had successfully returned to the Iraqi government 156 ancient artifacts that were plundered following the 2003 toppling of the former regime of Saddam Hussein.
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.
The tablets were handed over by Museum Director Hartwig Fischer to Iraqi Ambassador Salih al-Tamimi on Friday during an official ceremony held at the British Museum.
“The protection of Iraqi heritage is the responsibility of the international society which we hope to continue for future generations,” al-Tamimi said in a speech to attendees.
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.
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.
US Justice Department officials claimed in court proceedings that Hobby Lobby bought the items for $1.6 million through dealers in the United Arab Emirates and Israel, despite multiple clear indications that they had been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq.
Editing by John J. Catherine