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February 24, 2010Washington, DC, United StatesCultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

Heritage items returned to Iraq

Assistant Secretary Morton returns six cultural items to Iraqi Ambassador Sumaida'ie

WASHINGTON - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary John Morton presented six cultural items to the Ambassador of Iraq to the United States, Samir Sumaida'ie, in a ceremony at the Iraqi Embassy in the nation's capital. The items ranged the timeline of Iraq's history, from its ancient past to its recent political history.

This repatriation is the latest in a series by ICE that has returned more than 1,000 cultural artifacts to the people of Iraq since the agency was created in 2003. The six items returned at this ceremony include:

  • Neo-Assyrian gold earrings, ca. 8th-7th Century B.C., from a mass of gold jewelry known as the "Treasures of Nimrud", first discovered in 1988 under the floor of the Royal Palace of King Ashur-Nasir-Pal II at Nimrud (Iraq) and later stolen from the Baghdad Museum.
  • A Babylonian clay foundation cone, ca. 2100 BC, which would have been embedded in a temple's foundation with the name of the current ruler inscribed on it. This established the dedication of the temple to that ruler.
  • Sumerian bronze foundation cone and stone tablet with inscription, ca. 2,500 B.C. to 1,800 B.C., which would have been placed in the foundation or walls of a temple to mark them as sacred ground.
  • Iraqi coin, ca. 250 B.C., which was determined to be a Roman coin from 248-250 AD, when the Romans occupied what is now known as Iraq.
  • AK-47 bearing Saddam Hussein's image, such as were personally handed out by Saddam Hussein to Ba'ath party members and supporters. The rifle was brought in to the United States as a war trophy by a member of the U.S. Army.
"It is a great privilege and honor, on behalf of the United States, to return to the people of Iraq a collection of cultural treasures that reflects their nation's rich history and heritage," said ICE Assistant Secretary Morton. "These are precisely the types of treasures that ICE's Cultural Property Art and Antiquities unit was established to identify, investigate and return to their rightful owners. We will continue to be vigilant about finding and prosecuting those who would rob a nation for personal gain."

"On behalf of the Iraqi people, I want to thank the ICE for their continuing efforts to seize and return these cultural heirlooms to Iraq," said Iraqi Ambassador Sumaida'ie. "We have a long and rich history in Iraq, one which unites all Iraqis, regardless of ethnic or religious differences. The preservation of our Iraqi heritage should be the concern of all nations because it is an important part of world heritage."

As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE plays a leading role in investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property, art and antiquities. ICE's Cultural Property Art and Antiquities unit and Office of International Affairs works jointly to indentify, investigate and eventually return art and cultural items to their countries of origin or rightful owners.

ICE uses investigative authority to seize cultural property, art and antiquities if they were illegally imported into the United States. It also investigates the illegal trafficking of artwork, especially works that have been reported lost or stolen. ICE's Office of International Affairs, through its 63 attaché offices worldwide, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations.

Working with experts in the field of cultural heritage, art and archeology ICE authenticates the items, determines their true ownership and returns them to their rightful owners. Those involved in the illicit trafficking of cultural property, art and antiquities can face prison terms of up to 20 years, fines and possible restitution to purchasers of the items.

Updated: 07/11/2018