DAMASCUS, Syria – Syria handed over a trove of some 700 looted artifacts to Iraq on Wednesday after seizing the items from traffickers since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
The head of the Syrian Antiquities Department, Bassam Jamous, said some of the objects were from the Bronze Age and early Islamic era.
The treasures were returned during a ceremony at the Syrian National Museum attended by senior Syrian officials and the Iraqi state minister for tourism and antiquities affairs, Mohammad Abbas al-Oraibi.
Jamous did not specify the value of the artifacts or single out the most important pieces, but clay jars, coins, daggers and what appeared to be a large trunk were displayed at the ceremony.
Syrian Culture Minister Riyadh Nassan Agha also said a "priceless Iraqi piece" of important historical value had been seized two weeks ago by Syrian customs officers. He gave no details, saying only that it would be returned to Iraq later after experts examined it.
During the chaos that followed the invasion, Iraqi museums were pillaged of treasures dating back 5,000 years. U.S. officials said last month about 15,000 artifacts had been stolen from Iraq's famed National Museum and about 6,000 of those items had been recovered.
A U.S. investigator who led the probe into the looting said last month that trafficking of stolen Iraqi antiquities was helping finance Al Qaeda in Iraq as well as Shiite militias. The investigator, Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos, said the link between terrorists and antiquities trafficking was "undeniable."
The U.S. military was intensely criticized for not protecting the National Museum's treasure of ancient relics and art in the weeks after Baghdad's capture of Baghdad in April 2003, when looters roamed the city looking for anything of value. Bogdanos, however, blamed most of the thefts from the National Museum on museum insiders and senior government officials.