U.S. Forces Recover Looted Iraqi Artifacts

In a joint raid, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi policemen recovered two of the most important artifacts looted from the Iraqi National Museum (search) following the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, a coalition spokesman said Thursday.

Both artifacts have been identified by museum authorities in Baghdad and will be returned in the next few days, Charles Heatly said.

One of the two pieces, the so-called Bassetki copper statue (search), dating back to 2,300 B.C., depicts a man seated on the ground. It was found in a cesspool during a joint raid by U.S. Military Police and Iraqi police.

The second piece, discovered in the same raid, is a wood and bronze brazier, a mobile fire box used by Assyrian kings to keep warm in winter. It dates to 850 B.C.

Heatly did not provide details about when and where the two pieces were recovered.

"This was an important find," Heatly said. "We hope to still recover more artifacts."

The massive Bassetki piece was considered the second-most precious relic of the Iraqi National Museum.

The museum's top-listed piece, the Lady of Warka (search), was recovered Sept. 16. It was found by U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police in an orchard on the outskirts of the capital. The Iraqi Antiquities Department had earlier been tipped off by people who reported seeing it there.

The relic, depicting a female face, is about 5,200 years old and is also known as the Sumerian Mona Lisa.

The looting and destruction of the Iraqi National Museum in April triggered sharp criticism of U.S. forces both in Iraq and abroad. Museum curators and archaeologists worldwide blamed the United States for the losses, saying its troops should have protected the treasures, some of which date to the earliest days of human history.

Some looted items have been returned under a no-questions-asked amnesty program, while others were found in raids or in government vaults where they had been placed for safekeeping.

Still, only about 2,000 of 13,000 looted treasures have so far been recovered.

The Iraqi National Museum — which remains closed — is now guarded by the Iraqi police forces that work under the supervision of the U.S. military.