On Wednesday, during a repatriation ceremony held in New York, seven ancient seals were given back to Iraq nearly two decades after they were taken during the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003.
The works were returned from the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, which oversees a unit focused on illegally-sold antiquities, and were repatriated to Salwan Sinjari, Iraq’s envoy to the U.S.
Iraqi officials have been recovering droves of artifacts taken during the invasion. The Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad was left unsecured in the chaos that followed. Meanwhile, Western museum officials called for amnesty to looters.
In August 2021, representatives from the country oversaw the repatriation of 17,000 artifacts, including ones held by Hobby Lobby and Cornell University, in the largest-ever return of looted Iraqi antiquities. Experts in the field considered the 2021 repatriation a watershed event, given its scope and the value of some of the artifacts.
Both this return and the latest one are part of an ongoing push by the New York D.A.’s office to repatriate artifacts with suspect ownership records to governments abroad.
New York authorities first became aware of the seals circulation on the market when they were listed in an online auction held in March 2021. According to the D.A.’s office, the consignor did not have documentation demonstrating that the antiquities had been sold legally after 2003.
State and federal authorities believe the pieces circulated in the U.S. and passed through the hands of private collectors through dealers between 2004 and 2009.