BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Lady of Warka (search), one the two most precious relics looted from the Iraqi National Museum in the chaos that followed the April 9 fall of Baghdad, has been recovered by U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police, the head of Iraq's Antiquities Department said on Thursday.
The 3,200-year-old artifact, which is a representation of female face, was found buried in an orchard on the outskirts of Baghdad after the Antiquities Department (search) was tipped off by people who had reported seeing it there.
"The Lady of Warka was one of the most important antiquities stolen when looters broke into the Iraqi Museum. Many people in Iraq and in the world will be delighted with its return," Jabir Ibrahim, head of the department, said.
Ibrahim said his department received information in mid-August about a group of people trying to sell the Lady of Warka. The negotiations collapsed for unknown reasons, and the relic was subsequently hidden in the orchard, Ibrahim said.
The artifact, from the ancient city of Warka in southern Iraq, was recovered on Sep. 16 in a joint operation conducted by U.S. military police and Iraqi police.
"The relic, known as the Sumerian (search) Mona Lisa, will be handed over to the museum in the coming days" added Ibrahim.
Thousands of relics were ransacked from the museum in the chaos after U.S. troops entered the Iraqi capital, including two of the museum's masterpieces: the Lady of Warka and the 5,200-year-old Vase of Warka, the world's oldest carved-stone ritual vessel. The vase was returned by unidentified men in June — shattered, though experts hope to piece it back together.
The looting and destruction in April triggered deep criticism of U.S. forces both in Iraq and abroad. Museum curators and archaeologists worldwide said the United States should have protected the precious treasures, dating to the earliest days of settled human history.
Some looted items have been recovered under a no-questions-asked amnesty program, while others were found in raids or in government vaults where they had been put for safekeeping. Ibrahim said, however, that Iraqi authorities had recovered only about 2,000 of 13,000 looted treasures.
The museum, still closed, is now guarded by the Iraqi police forces that work under the supervision of the U.S. military. A gallery of artifacts from the Assyrian (search) era is expected to reopen soon.