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Iraq finds missing antiquities in prime minister's storage facility

Some 600 looted Iraqi antiquities were found packed in a dozen boxes in what appears to be an embarrassing mistake, negligence – or both.

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Artifacts at Iraq's national museum, in Baghdad. About 600 missing artifacts, smuggled out of Iraq and then returned, have been found in storage at the prime minister's office.

Karim Kadim/AP

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More than 600 looted artifacts that were retrieved by the United States, shipped back to Iraq, and then mysteriously lost finally have been found in the prime minister's warehouse alongside boxes of kitchen supplies, the Iraqi tourism minister said Monday.

The ancient pieces – including clay pots, a bronze Sumerian figurine, and stone tablets etched with cuneiform writing – were returned to the Iraqi National Museum, resolving a real-life caper that began when many of them were stolen from a museum in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk in 1991.

US authorities had recovered the pieces over several years, some of which had been put up for auction. In December 2008, Gen. David Petraeus, who was then the commander of American forces in Iraq, had arranged to have them transported to Iraq on a military plane.

It should have been a happy moment for Iraq, which had seen tens of thousands of artifacts from one of the world's most ancient civilizations plundered during the 1990s and after the 2003 US-led invasion, and had been working hard to get them back.

What followed instead was an embarrassing mistake, official negligence, or some combination of the two.

The US military delivered the pieces, packed in about a dozen boxes, to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office, American and Iraqi officials said. Somehow, the boxes were sent to Mr. Maliki's official storage facility, where they sat for nearly two years and apparently were forgotten.

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