American authorities returned around 65 stolen artifacts to Iraq after a very long investigation to retrieve the stolen items. The items were handed over at the Iraqi consulate in Washington, DC.
“We are talking about a broad transnational criminal organization that deals in illicit cultural property,” explained Special Agent Brenton M. Easter with the Homeland Security Department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Operation Lost Treasure and Operation Mummy’s Curse led officials to a “Dubai-based antiquities dealer who was trying to sell them with false paperwork, to museums, galleries and art houses in New York.” Officials found items such as water urns from former dictator Saddam Hussein’s palace, swords, and glass vessels.
After America invaded Iraq 2003, looters took advantage of the mayhem and stole thousands of valuable artifacts from museums and historic sites. The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) have ransacked similar valuables as they extend their caliphate across Iraq and Syria, selling the artifacts on the black market to antique collectors.
One artifact is a statue of King Sargon II stolen between 2007 and 2008 in the same area the Islamic State bulldozed on March 9. King Sargon built Khorsabad in 721 BC, which became the Assyrian capital. It is known for the high wall Sargon built around the city. Parts of the wall and city currently reside in Baghdad, Paris, London, and Chicago.
“The special agents seized the limestone statue in August 2008 after it was shipped to New York City by a Dubai based antiquities trading company, owned by that antiquities dealer,” said Sarah Saldaña, director of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The officials caught the scam before many items hit the market.
“That material wouldn’t necessarily hit the open market for five to 10 years… because the dealers are smart enough to know that they don’t want to actively and openly be participating in something that’s illegal,” explained Easter.
Iraqi officials do not worry once the relics return to Iraq. The artifacts are placed in vaults for safekeeping.
“When it goes to the vault of our museums and others we are fairly confident about that,” said Lukamn Faily, Iraq’s ambassador to the US.
The Islamic State looted historic sites before they destroyed them. This practice alone turned the jihadists into billionaires. The Wall Street Journal reported on the Syrian “Monuments Men,” who work to preserve the precious history. A cleric and American priest worked before and after the invasion of Mosul to preserve manuscripts.