Monday, July 11, 2011

STOLEN IRAQI ANTIQUITIES RETURNED

A cache of Iraqi antiquities, as well as objects from the Saddam Hussein era, were headed home Thursday after being found on military containers at Christie’s auction house and on Craigslist, among other places.

An estimated 15,000 pieces were stolen from Iraq’s National Museum in pillaging after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and many more are believed to have been smuggled out since then by U.S. military personnel and contractors. More than half of the items that have turned up in the United States or elsewhere have been repatriated to Iraq, but treasured items remain missing.

Investigators from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tracked down the most recent finds (about 30) as part of four separate investigations – in Florida, New Jersey, Texas and Arkansas – over the course of several years. The items include a Western Asiatic necklace believed to date to the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., serving pieces and utensils inscribed with the crest of Iraq’s Baath Party, and a marble slab from one of Hussein’s palaces.

The slab was initially discovered on Craigslist, where it had been listed for sale by a member of the U.S. Army. Investigators, posing as interested buyers, contacted the seller online and later met him at his house. When they got there, he led them to his garage, where the slab was being kept. He said he obtained it while patrolling towns in Iraq.

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