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Tehran Times | Sept. 21, 2010

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's tourism and antiquities minister says about 600 missing artifacts, smuggled out of Iraq and then returned, have been found in storage at the prime minister's office.

Qahtan al-Jubouri says the jewelry and bronze figurines from Iraq's ancient history went missing due to “inappropriate handover procedures.”

The missing artifacts came to light during a recent display in Baghdad of hundreds of recovered antiquities, looted from museums and archaeological sites.

Iraq's ambassador to the U.S. said at the event that 600 artifacts have not been seen since they were transported by the U.S. military from Washington to Baghdad and delivered to Nouri al-Maliki's office.

The artifacts were handed over to the Iraqi National Museum on Monday.

On September 7 Iraq displayed hundreds of recovered artifacts that were among the country's looted heritage and span the ages from a 4,400-year-old statue of a Sumerian king to a chrome-plated AK-47 bearing Saddam Hussein's image.

The 542 pieces are among the most recent artifacts recovered from a heartbreaking frenzy of looting at museums and archaeological sites after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and in earlier years of war and upheaval. The thefts swept a stunning array of priceless antiquities into the hands of collectors abroad.

So far, 5,000 items stolen since 2003 have been recovered. And culture officials said they hoped the display would encourage more nations to cooperate in the search for 15,000 pieces still missing from the Iraqi National Museum, one of the sites worst-hit by looters after the fall of Baghdad seven years ago.

Iraqi and world culture officials have for years struggled to retrieve looted treasures but with little success.

The U.S. military was heavily criticized for not protecting the National Museum's trove of relics and art after Baghdad's fall in 2003. Thieves ransacked the collection, stealing or destroying priceless artifacts that chronicled some 7,000 years of civilization in Mesopotamia, including the ancient Babylonians, Sumerians and Assyrians.

Photo: Iraq’s 600 missing artifacts, smuggled out of Iraq and then returned, then found in storage of Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki. -

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