WASHINGTON – A ceremonial sword, looted in 2003 from Saddam Hussein’s personal office in Baghdad, was returned to the Republic of Iraq Monday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The sword, which had been smuggled into the United States by U.S. military personnel, was repatriated at a private ceremony held at Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily’s residence in Washington.
"On behalf of the government and the people of Iraq, I would like to express thanks and appreciation to the U.S. government and Homeland Security Investigations special agents – the soldiers behind the scene – and all of those who contributed in restoring this heritage that belongs to Iraq and its people," said Ambassador Faily. "Today is one of these historic days that documents the deep relationship, cooperation and friendship between Iraq and the United States and also shows again the U.S. commitment for rebuilding Iraq and preserving its cultural heritage."
The sword is a 43-inch embellished blade and sheath with gold inlaid Arabic writing along the edge of the blade that declares it to be a gift to Saddam Hussein. It was sold in October 2011 to the Amoskeag Auction Company (AAC) in Manchester, N.H., and advertised in their Jan. 7, 2012, auction catalogue as having been removed from Hussein's personal office in the Iraqi military command complex in Baghdad by the U.S. Army 126th Military History Detachment after the regime fell in 2003. The catalog also said that the consignor was attached to the unit as a combat historian, that the sword was not claimed by the U.S. government and that the consignor was granted permission to keep the sword as a souvenir.
In January 2012, HSI special agents in Manchester learned that it was being auctioned and initiated an investigation.
Although the sword was sold at auction for $15,000 by AAC Jan. 7, 2012, the sale had not been consummated by an exchange of money and the object had not yet been shipped to the purchaser by AAC. On Jan. 9, 2012, HSI special agents seized the sword as a possible Iraqi cultural artifact.
HSI special agents coordinated with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) regarding the validity of the sword’s importation into the United States and the regulations surrounding the importation of war trophies from Iraq. It was determined that this ornate ceremonial sword cannot be considered a modern battlefield weapon and is therefore not eligible to be exported as a war trophy.
Additionally, the import of this historic sword was prohibited by DOD’s Office of Foreign Assets Control pursuant to an executive order which prohibits trade or transfer of Iraqi cultural property.
On April 30, 2012, the sword was administratively forfeited. In 2008, 2010 and 2011, ICE repatriated to the government of Iraq a collection of cultural objects including Saddam Hussein-era paintings, AK-47 rifles, ancient tablets, clay statues, ancient gold earrings, coins, a Western Asiatic necklace and terra cotta cones, all illegally imported into the United States from Iraq.
Through HSI’s cultural property and antiquities investigations, a team of HSI special agents recovered Iraqi treasures, and investigated the looting of the Iraq National Museum following the fall of the Hussein regime. The team volunteered to lead this mission, and scoured Baghdad in search of more than 17,000 items that chronicled the region's 7,000 years of civilization. HSI special agents electronically scanned the museum's inventory lists and manifests to determine which items were missing, and quickly determined that most of the museum's artifacts had been hidden. Eventually, they were able to recover many of the items that were looted by cultivating sources. Agents were also able to send information about looted artifacts to other countries to help recover them if they crossed their borders.
HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illegal importation and distribution of cultural property, including the illicit trafficking of cultural property, especially objects that have been reported lost or stolen. The HSI Office of International Affairs, through its 75 attaché offices in 48 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.
HSI specially trained investigators, assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also provide cultural property investigative training to law enforcement partners for crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.
Since 2007, more than 7,150 artifacts have been returned to 26 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.
Learn more about HSI cultural property, art and antiquities investigations. Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete its online tip form.
Learn more about the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq at www.iraqiembassy.us.