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Iraqi Official Says Thousands Of Artifacts Recovered

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki inspects antiquities during the reopening ceremony of the National Museum in Baghdad in February 2009.
BAGHDAD -- A senior Iraqi official says that international cooperation has resulted in the recovery of thousands of ancient artifacts stolen from the country's national museum and historical sites since 2003, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.

Tourism and Antiquities Minister Qahtan al-Juburi told RFE/RL that more than 36,000 various artifacts have been recovered in the past seven years.

Juburi said that figure includes roughly 8,000 items that were stolen from the national museum when it was looted shortly after Baghdad fell to U.S.-led forces in April 2003. He said a total of some 15,000 historical artifacts were lost from the museum.

Juburi said this encourages the ministry and other government departments to continue their hunt until the last missing artifact is returned to Iraq.

Tourism and Antiquities Ministry spokesman Abd al-Zahra Talaqani told RFE/RL that in 2008 alone, 702 artifacts were returned by Syria and 2,470 items from Jordan. He said 70 pieces had recently been returned from the Netherlands and four from Turkey.

Talaqani said there were 22 artifacts being held by Spain pending a settlement of legal issues related to their ownership.

He said that countries from Germany to Peru were helping Iraq recover its lost treasures, but that "Iran has so far been uncooperative in this respect."

Meanwhile, Juburi said that during a recent visit to the United States an agreement was reached with the University of Chicago to send archeologists to Iraq to work with Iraqis on the excavation of an archeological site. He said a similar pledge was received from the Czech Republic.

Juburi emphasized that such foreign expertise is vital, considering there are more than 21,000 archeological sites in Iraq -- some 13,000 of them unexplored.