It is a treasure of around 17,000 archaeological objects, dating back almost 4,000 years. A restitution from the United States to Iraq ” unprecedented “, welcomed the Iraqi Minister of Culture, Hassan Nazim, Wednesday July 28. “This is the most important return of antiquities to Iraq”, he said in a statement, adding that the announcement was the “Result of several months of efforts by the Iraqi authorities in conjunction with their embassy in Washington”.
The 17,000 pieces will be transported on the plane of Iraqi Prime Minister Moustafa Al-Kadhimi, who returns to Iraq on Thursday after a visit of several days to Washington, where he met US President Joe Biden. The majority of restitutions document “Trade during the Sumerian period”, one of the oldest civilizations in Mesopotamia, according to the statement from the Iraqi culture ministry.
Among the returned property could be a 3,500-year-old wedge-shaped clay tablet that the United States plans to return to Iraq. It is considered to be “Stolen cultural property”, fraudulently introduced into the American art market, according to the US Department of Justice, which however did not specify when she would be back in the country.
The tablet contains fragments of theEpic of Gilgamesh, considered one of the oldest literary works of humanity, which recounts the adventures of a powerful king of Mesopotamia in search of immortality. The American court decision “Represents an important step towards the return of this masterpieceœwork of world literature in its country of origin ”, said on Tuesday the prosecutor Jacquelyn Kasulis, in charge of the file.
Iraqi antiquities have been looted for decades, thanks to the multiple conflicts that the country has known, in particular the American invasion of 2003. “It is impossible to quantify the number of pieces that have been stolen from archaeological sites”, explained Qahtan Al-Obaid, director of antiquities and heritage at the museum in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city. The looting is generally organized crime, but is sometimes also the act of local populations who seek to ensure their survival, he said.
Archaeological sites across the country were severely damaged and neglected, and museums looted after the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. Some 15,000 possessions were stolen from Iraq’s only national museum, located in Baghdad. “I hope that in the near future we will be able to recover the rest of our property, especially in Europe”, said the Iraqi Minister of Culture in his press release.