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US returns 17,000 artefacts to Iraq

The United States will return to Iraq about 17,000 archeological sites nearly 4,000 years old and looted in recent decades. A “invisible” return, the delighted Iraqi culture minister said Wednesday.

“This brings back a great deal of archeology to Iraq,” Hassan Naseem said in a statement. This is “the result of months of efforts by Iraqi authorities in collaboration with the embassy in Washington.”

The 17,000 pieces, mostly about 4,000 years old, travel on a plane carrying Iraqi Prime Minister Moustaba al-Qasimi, who is returning to Iraq on Thursday, after a several-day visit to Washington, where he met with US President Joe Biden.

The Iraqi Ministry of Culture said in a statement that most of the pieces document “trade during the Sumerian period”, one of the oldest civilizations in Mesopotamia.

The pieces returning on Thursday may contain fragments of Gilgamesh’s epic in 3,500-year-old clay tablet cuneiform writing. That epic is considered one of the oldest literary works of mankind and tells of the adventures of the mighty king of Mesopotamia in search of immortality. The United States wants to return the tablet to Iraq, but the US Justice Department has not said when.

Numerous artifacts have been looted during the Iraq-known conflict. “I hope we can restore our heritage, including Europe, in the future,” Nazim said in the statement.

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