A prized statue of an ancient king that was stolen during widespread looting in Iraq following the U.S. invasion three years ago has been returned to the country's government, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki held a ceremony Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to repatriate the 4,000-year-old statue.

Made of rare black stone, the headless statue of Entemena is the oldest known representation of the king of ancient Iraq. It was excavated in the early 20th century near a temple in southern Iraq by University of Pennsylvania and British Museum researchers.

Along with hundreds of other valuable cultural pieces, the statue was taken from the Iraq National Museum when looters ransacked the country's cultural sites in April 2003.

Officials say informants earlier this year notified the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with the statue's whereabouts. It was found in May and authenticated in June, officials said.

The ceremony coincided with al-Maliki's visit to Washington to meet with U.S. leaders about the deteriorating security situation in Baghdad, where sectarian violence has left hundreds dead in recent weeks.