The US handed back to Iraq two ancient looted sculptures valued at $275,000, Baghdad's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
A Mesopotamian limestone elephant and a Sumerian alabaster bull were stolen from the ancient city of Uruk, now known as Warka, one of the oldest civilizations in human history.
"Within the framework of the continuous co-operation between Iraq and the United States in the field of returning illegally smuggled Iraqi antiquities we proudly announce the return of two looted artefacts from the office of the New York attorney general," the foreign ministry told The National.
The two pieces were smuggled during the Gulf War and brought to New York in the late 1990s, the statement said.
A repatriation ceremony was held at the Iraqi embassy in Washington which was attended by assistant special agent-in-charge of Homeland Security Investigations New York, Thomas Acocella and the counsellor at the Iraqi embassy Dhafer Abdulrazaq Jalil.
"Bringing these pieces back home comes as part of the antiquities recovery operations that Iraqi authorities in the foreign and culture ministries and the embassy in Washington are working alongside their American counterparts," the statement said.
The bull was seized from the private collection of Shelby White and the limestone elephant from a storage unit that belonged to the convicted trafficker Robin Symes, where it had been hidden since at least 1999, according to a statement by the district attorney of New York City.
“Once again, we see historic and priceless antiquities hidden from the public and sitting in the possession of traffickers and looters. We will not allow New York City to be a safe harbour for stolen cultural artefacts,” district attorney Alvin L Bragg Jr said in a statement.
Salwan Sinjari, the Iraqi charge d’affairs to the US said the move is another example of the longstanding partnership between Iraq and the US.
“I’m grateful for the work by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for its efforts to repatriate these precious, historic antiquities to Iraq,” he said in a statement.
“These pieces belong to Iraq — and belong in Iraq — and now they will help the Iraqi people better understand and appreciate their own history and culture with this connection to the past," he said.
It is known that the Sumerian bull was originally given as a religious offering to the goddess Inanna at her temple at Uruk. This statuette was probably left together with or in substitution for the living sacrificial animals that it represents.
The limestone shows how the creatures existed in Mesopotamia and have appeared in excavations dating to the 4th millennium.
They were rarely represented in art during those times, making the sculpture a rare historic piece.
Iraq is the birthplace of the world's earliest civilisation in recorded history, and it is home to thousands of artefacts.
Some which have been lost over the years are yet to be found.