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Iraq Says Antiquities Ring Busted

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki inspects antiquities during the reopening ceremony of Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad last year.
BAGHDAD -- Iraq's Anticorruption Commission says it has busted a ring of antiquities thieves and seized stolen artifacts in an undercover operation, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.

Anticorruption Commission Chairman Judge Abd al-Rahim al-Ugaily told RFE/RL that a four-member gang engaged in illicit trafficking in valuable artifacts was caught red-handed in a sting operation carried out by a commission task force specially trained to track down archeological grave robbers and smugglers. He said the whole action was videotaped.

Ugaily added that 10 ancient gold coins and two paintings were seized in the operation in Baghdad. He added that an investigation to determine the origins of the recovered items is still at the preliminary stage.

The judge said the Anticorruption Commission was actively pursuing artifact thieves and looters, as it regards Iraq's historical sites and cultural heritage national property that should be protected in the same way as public funds.

Abd al-Zahra Talaqani, a spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told RFE/RL that the Anticorruption Commission was making an effective contribution to safeguarding Iraq's priceless treasures.

He pointed out that in 2007 alone, the commission returned 210 artifacts to the National Museum.

Talaqani said that the Iraqi National Museum lost some 15,500 artifacts and antiquities when it was vandalized after the collapse of law and order in the wake of the April 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Approximately one-third of them have been returned so far, thanks to national and international efforts.