Officials triumphed in Monday's return of everything from gold
earrings to a sacred statue looted in the Iraq war. But they also
said that 632 pieces returned last year have gone missing.
Gold earrings made for an Assyrian queen, a sacred 4,000-year-
old statue, and 540 other looted pieces of Iraq's ancient history
were formally returned to Iraq on Monday in what was billed as a
triumph of justice and international cooperation.
"This is a very happy day - we are making progress in the very
important field of returning Iraqi history to its rightful home,"
said Iraq's ambassador to Washington, Samir Sumaidaie, who said the
objects had been found through a combination of Iraqi and American
efforts. "Iraq cannot be summarized by 30 years of problems and wars
- it can stand and it can reclaim its history."
He noted, however, that a previous shipment of 632 stolen pieces
recovered in the US had gone missing after being delivered to Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office last year.
The looting of the Iraq museum was one of the most controversial
moments in the early part of the war. US troops sent in to topple
Saddam Hussein and secure the city had no orders to protect the
museum or other cultural institutions. In the ensuing chaos,
thousands of pieces of Iraq's history were looted while other
cultural institutions were burned.
Monday's return of more than 542 involved countries including
Syria, Germany, and Turkey - as well as the United States, operating
through a dozen different government agencies - and was hailed as a
"This goes back to the most sensitive nerve in the Iraqi psyche,"
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the Monitor. "These are
antiquities that have been stolen from the museum and now to get
them back is a healing process - that we, your sons, the government,
the embassies the ministries are able to bring them back is very,
Another 632 recovered pieces are now missing
Each of the recovered pieces has a story to it. But in a twist
worthy of a detective novel, Mr. Sumaidaie noted the missing
shipment of the 632 recovered looted pieces sent back from the US.
Because of Baghdad's precarious security, the Iraqi ambassador said
he had arranged with Gen. David Petraeus to have them returned.
"We asked the US military to move it to Iraq. When the pieces
arrived in Iraq, they were delivered to the office of the prime
minister and now we are trying to find them," Sumadaie told
diplomats and journalists gathered at the Foreign Ministry.
The pointed comment by the nonpartisan ambassador was seen as an
effort to put pressure on an unresponsive prime minister's office to
either produce or account for the artifacts.
The pieces signed for at the prime ministry were mostly cylinder
seals - ancient carved stone cylinders used as personal signatures -
and other small items, but Iraqi authorities have not been able to
get an answer as to what has happened to them, he told the Monitor.
Prime Minister Maliki's office could not be reached for comment.
Too dangerous to display them in museum
Many of the more than 540 recovered items have been at the Iraqi
Embassy in Washington over the past two years, waiting for security
to improve in the Iraqi capital as well as for the bureaucratic
requirements involved in shipping the pieces to be worked out. …