Germany returns 22 stolen Sumerian artefacts found in raid

Iraq briefs

BERLIN // Germany returned to Iraq 22 stolen ancient artefacts that date to Sumerian times, reported Al Sabah newspaper. The Iraqi ambassador to Germany, Alaa al Hashimi, received the items from Ava Kuehne-Hoermann, the science minister in Hessen state. Recovered items included inscribed stone tablets, pottery writing tablets, seals and other artefacts. Six of the items were pottery cones used on buildings to display the name of the owner, the description of the building and the name of the god the inhabitants of the town worshipped. The items were seized in 2007 when police raided a house near Frankfurt. The items, which officials said had probably been smuggled by soldiers after the US invasion, had been passed on to an unknown source in Germany. Sumerian civilisation spanned more than 3,000 years and is famous for its writing and inscription system. * Al Sabah

BAGHDAD // Najaf province confirmed on Friday that the governor, Adnan al Zurfi, escaped a roadside bomb attack targeting his motorcade while on his way from Najaf to Diwaniya province, reported Al Mada newspaper. "A bomb exploded Friday morning targeting the convoy of the Najaf governor along the public road leading to Diwaniya province," Haytham Shabaa, a Najaf media spokesman, was reported as saying. "The governor and his companions were not injured, but the explosion resulted in material damage to the convoy vehicles." In Diyala, a police source confirmed that on the same day police forces found highly explosive materials in a flour bag north of Baquba and arrested four suspects, one of whom was wanted by the authorities. The source said the arrests were made based on intelligence information that people were planning to carry out acts of violence. All the detainees were transferred to a military barrack for investigations. * Al Mada

LONDON // The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, will appear at Britain's Iraq war inquiry before this year's elections, its chairman said on Friday, forcing the conflict right up the campaign agenda. Mr Brown was initially told by the Chilcot inquiry he could not give evidence before voting begins for the general election, which is expected to be held on May 6. That position changed after Mr Brown faced intense pressure from his political rivals for full disclosure on the 2003 invasion, when he was Tony Blair's finance minister, and about which he has previously said relatively little. Now his inquiry appearance - plus that of the former prime minister Mr Blair next Friday - risks reviving memories of a controversial war Britain was led into by the Labour administration. Mr Brown's spokesman insisted he had "nothing to hide" and was "keen to take up the opportunity to state the case why Britain was right to take the action it did". * Agence France-Presse

BAGHDAD // The US Marine Corps wrapped up its role yesterday in Iraq, handing over duties to the army and signalling the beginning of an accelerated withdrawal of US troops as the United States shifts its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. The marines were to formally hand control of Sunni-dominated Anbar, Iraq's largest province, to the army during a ceremony at a base in Ramadi, where some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place. If all goes as planned, the last remaining marines will be followed out by tens of thousands of soldiers in the coming months. The US president has ordered all but 50,000 troops out by August 31, with most to leave after the March 7 election. The remaining troops will leave by the end of 2011 under a US-Iraqi security pact. But concerns about the election's success and perhaps the loss of hard-won security gains the marines helped cement are on the rise. * Associated Press

PARIS // Corsican police found more than 100 Kurdish migrants on a beach on the French island in the Mediterranean Sea on Friday, according to a French security source and quoted by Azzaman newspaper. Among the migrants were 30 children, an official source was reported as saying. In the past five years, French immigration authorities have witnessed a significant increase in the number of illegal migrants from Iraqi Kurdistan while the number of migrants from Baghdad and other Iraqi cities has decreased. "We were surprised to discover such a large number of Kurdish migrants as they are usually found along the Italian shores," said Lt Jean-Jacques Casalot of the Corsican police. The migrants were placed in a secondary school in Bonifacio until a decision can made on their future. A Kurdish rights activist in Paris blamed worsening economic conditions and lack of job opportunities as the reasons pushing many youth to migrate. * Azzaman