Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who met with President Joe Biden in the White House on Tuesday, will take as much of his taxes with him as possible when he flies home to Baghdad on Thursday.
Much originates from ancient Mesopotamia, and many small pieces of document show how trade took place in the Sumerian period 3000-4000 years before our era, says a statement from the Ministry of Culture.
Culture Minister Hassan Nazim says this is the largest return of stolen taxes to Iraq ever. He praises the process, which he says is the result of months of efforts by the Iraqi authorities and the Iraqi embassy in Washington.
Looted and smuggled
Antiques from Iraq have been looted and smuggled out of the country after decades of war and rebellion. The business gained momentum after the US – led invasion in 2003.
“It is impossible to quantify how many artefacts have been stolen from archaeological sites,” said Qahtan al-Obaid. He is the director of heritage and antiques at the museum in Basra.
Archaeological excavations throughout Iraq have been demolished and neglected. More than 15,000 artifacts were taken from the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad alone. Nazim hopes that the rest of the stolen treasures will be returned, especially those in Europe.
One of the most valuable artifacts now being returned from the United States is a 3,500-year-old stone tablet in which a sequence from the epic poem Gilgamesh is written.
The painting has been on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, but was seized by the US Department of Justice in 2019.
The museum was established in 2017 by billionaire David Green, who according to the Ministry of Justice bought the Gilgamesh painting at auction in 2014 for almost NOK 15 million.
The painting was illegally shipped to the United States in 2003 by a dealer who had bought it in London from a well-known art dealer from Jordan. Later, the board was sold and bought several times, in shops where the trick was legal to ensure that one kept on the right side of the law.
In accordance with US confiscation laws, the Department of Justice has now secured formal ownership of the board in order to return it to Iraq. It is currently unclear whether this art object will be found among those that the Prime Minister brings home to Iraq from the United States on Thursday.
“This confiscation is an important milestone on the road to the return of this rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to the country of origin,” said New York judge Jacquelyn Kasulis in connection with the ruling.
The board contains a dream sequence from Gilgamesh, which was written in Akkadian and dates back to 2,100 years before Christ.