UK hands back 6,000 antiquities borrowed from Iraq 100 years ago

Foreign Ministry says negotiations continue to return all of country's ancient artefacts

Baghdad's Archaeological Museum was looted in 2003. Getty
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More than 6,000 ancient artefacts have been returned to Iraq, bringing the total recovered in five years to 34,000.

The birthplace of the world's earliest recorded civilisation is home to thousands of artefacts. Many have been lost and stolen through conflict and by opportunistic poachers and have yet to be found or returned. Others were on long-term loans.

The latest items were handed back by the UK after they were borrowed more than 100 years ago.

“We have succeeded, through diplomacy, in returning 34,502 artefacts since 2019 until now,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Al Sahaf told The National on Tuesday.

Antiquities have also been returned from the US, South Korea, Spain, Lebanon, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands, he said.

“There has been on going co-ordination with 10 countries to recover the artefacts,” he said. He said the “return of recently lent antiquities comes within the vision of Iraqi diplomacy”.

On Sunday, President Abdul Latif Rashid attended a ceremony at the Iraqi embassy in London during which British officials handed over 6,000 Iraqi artefacts, said the president's office.

They were borrowed from Iraq more than a hundred years ago for “study purposes”, it said.

For decades, the war-torn country has struggled with the widespread theft of its antiquities and ancient paintings.

The looting began when the government lost control of the south in 1991 after the First Gulf War, and continued during the security vacuum that emerged after the US-led invasion of 2003.

Earlier, Mr Al Sahaf said his ministry was seeking to return all of Iraq's stolen history.

“The recovery of any part of our rich history is a source of pride and happiness for all Iraqis,” he said.

For years, experts and officials have said that Iraq’s rich cultural heritage is being lost at “unprecedented rates” as a result of conflict.

Updated: May 09, 2023, 1:40 PM