Efforts made by the US government to rectify the looting and pillaging of cultural property in Iraq during the American occupation appear to be paying off. This week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) returned a collection of objects illegally imported into the United States from Iraq. The items include two pottery dishes, four vases, an oil lamp, three small statues, and the seven terracotta relief plaques, ranging in age from 2,500 to 4,000 years old. Department of Defense contractors who were traveling through Iraq took the artifacts illegally in 2004. Investigators learned that the contractors collected the items and used them as gifts and bribes or sold them to other contractors who then smuggled them into the United States. Two of the contractors were sentenced to prison for their roles in the scheme.
The objects were seized in 2006 during a public corruption investigation conducted by the US International Contract Corruption Task Force, a multi-agency task force whose mission is to stop fraud and corruption related to U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere overseas. Also involved in the investigation is the FBI art crime team, which was formed in response to the looting of the Baghdad Museum in Iraq in 2003.
The artifacts were returned to the government of Iraq in a Washington, D.C. joint repatriation ceremony attended by Iraqi Ambassador to the United States, Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida’ie, Deputy Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Kumar Kibble, and Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office James McJunkin.
“Pilfering and trading in a country’s ethnic and cultural heritage treasures, either during a time of peace or upheaval, are major transgressions that ICE, in coordination with a host of domestic and international partners, works to detect and stop,” said Kibble.
“On behalf of the Iraqi people, I want to thank ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for their commitment to seizing and returning cultural heirlooms to Iraq,” said Iraqi Ambassador Sumaida’ie. “Iraq’s long and rich history unites all Iraqis, regardless of ethnic or religious differences. Preserving our heritage is not only important to us as Iraqis but rather is important to all nations because it is an invaluable part of world heritage.”
Read Iraqi antiquities looted in war returned on the Washington Times.
Much thanks to Rachel Payne for contributing this post.