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Iraq recovers over 6,000 stolen historical artifacts, government says

An Iraqi official says the Iraqi government’s efforts to get back historical artifacts  smuggled out of the country were focused on Mosul, which was overrun by ISIS in 2014.
A man looks at artifacts, under restoration after being destroyed by the Islamic State (IS) group, at the Mosul Museum in Iraq's northern city on May 11, 2023.

The Iraqi government has recovered more than 6,000 historical artifacts that were smuggled out of the country, a high-level Iraqi official said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a conference on Iraqi cultural heritage in the northern Iraqi province of Mosul, Ali Obaid Shalgam, the head of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, said the number of historical artifacts that were returned to the country under the Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani-led government reached 6,250 and that they were being safely kept at the Iraq Museum.

Shalgam said the government’s efforts have been focused on artifacts stolen from Mosul, which is home to the country’s second-largest and iconic Mosul Cultural Museum. Numerous pieces from the museum’s collection were looted or destroyed by the Islamic State (ISIS) after the Sunni extremist militants overran the Iraqi province in 2014. ISIS also burned its library of roughly 28,000 books and ancient manuscripts to ashes.

The museum, which is currently under renovation by an international consortium including the Smithsonian Institution and World Monuments Fund, is expected to reopen in 2026, according to Iraqi officials.

Speaking on Wednesday, Shalgam added that Baghdad worked in coordination with foreign governments and international bodies, but he stopped short of naming these governments and institutions during his speech.

The United States has been leading international efforts for the return of historical artifacts smuggled out of the country since the Iraq invasion in 2003. Under the State Department-led Iraq Cultural Heritage Project, which was set up in 2008, tens of thousands of historical pieces have been returned to the country.