Hundreds of artefacts stolen from Iraq and sold on the international market arrived in Baghdad on Monday, a day after they were retrieved from a private museum in Lebanon.
The 337 objects were flown back to Baghdad International Airport in large wooden boxes. There, the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage received them from the Foreign Ministry.
“The co-operation between the Culture, Foreign and Justice Ministries as well as the Iraqi Intelligence Service led to the restoration,” Laith Hussein, director of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, told state television.
Mr Hussein said 331 of the items, most of them clay cuneiform tablets, date back to the Early Dynastic period between 2900BC – 2350BC and the Akkadian period between 2350BC – 2150BC.
Six other objects, he said, can be traced to the Old Babylonian period between 2003BC and 1595BC.
“Soon, we will celebrate the return of more artefacts from a number of European countries and we will continue our work until we retrieve the last artefact outside Iraq,” he said, without giving details.
The pieces were bought by the Nabu Museum in northern Lebanon. It became a subject of controversy after it opened in 2018 over suspicions that some items in its collection may have been taken illegally from Iraq and Syria.
On Sunday, Iraq officially retrieved them in Beirut from the museum.
Decades of war, a lack of security and mismanagement have badly affected Iraq’s archaeological sites.
Illegal digging became widespread in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, when the dictator Saddam Hussein began to lose control of the country following the rout of his forces in Kuwait by a US-led coalition.
Looters continued digging in thousands of unprotected archaeological sites nationwide after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
The latest consignment to Iraq is the second biggest in less than a year.
The relics, dating as far back as 4,000 years, were looted from Iraq and smuggled on to the black market mainly after the Gulf War.
Among them was an antique clay tablet that bears a portion of the Epic of Gilgamish, the oldest known surviving piece of literature.
Last month, US authorities handed several ancient artefacts confiscated from private collectors to the Iraqi embassy in Washington.