United States to Return 17,000 Ancient Objects, Including Gilgamesh Tablet, to Iraq


Iraqi officials announced Tuesday that the United States is finally returning more than 17,000 ancient objects looted and smuggled out of the country after the American invasion in 2003, including a 3,500-year-old clay tablet bearing part of the epic of Gilgamesh.

Tens of thousands of antiquities disappeared from Iraq after the 2003 invasion that overthrew leader Saddam Hussein. Many more were smuggled or destroyed by the terrorist group Daesh, which held a third of Iraq between 2014 and 2017 before being defeated by Iraqi and international forces.

U.S. authorities working to recover the artefacts recently reached an agreement with Baghdad to return the items seized from merchants and museums in the United States, Iraq’s ministries of culture and foreign affairs said.

“The US government seized some of the artifacts and sent them to the (Iraqi) embassy. The Gilgamesh tablet, the most important, will be returned to Iraq next month after the legal procedures are finalized,” Reuters told Reuters on Minister of Culture Hassan Nadhim.

U.S. authorities seized the Gilgamesh tablet in 2019 after it was smuggled, auctioned and sold to an art dealer in Oklahoma and displayed in a museum in Washington, the Department of Justice said. A court ordered its confiscation last month, he said.

He said an American antique dealer bought the tablet from a London-based dealer in 2003. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a 3,500-year-old Sumerian tale considered one of the world’s earliest literary works.

Nadhim said the other artifacts returned included other tablets inscribed in cuneiform script.

Iraq’s ancient heritage has been decimated by conflict, destruction and looting, especially since 2003. Thousands of artifacts are still missing.

After 2014, the terrorist group Daesh, which preached an intolerant and extremist interpretation of Islam, raided and destroyed historic sites at what UNESCO called an “industrial” scale, using the loot to fund its operations. via a smuggling network spanning across the Middle East and beyond. .

With the help of international agencies, the Iraqi authorities are trying to find, restore and preserve its archaeological remains.

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