Priceless, ancient statue handed back to Iraq

THREE years after it was stolen from the national museum, one of Iraq’s most valuable artifacts — a priceless statue -— was repatriated to the Iraqi government on Tuesday and hailed as a symbol of the country’s ancient past and future p

otential.


“The Iraqi people are determined to rebuild their country in the face of all the elements of destruction,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said at the Iraqi Embassy, where Department of Homeland Security officials handed over a 30-inch statue of Entemena, one of Iraq’s first kings.


The statue was housed in the Iraqi National Museum until it and thousands of other artifacts were looted following the 2003 invasion. US customs officials recovered the statue in Syria earlier this year and it was then taken to New York to be authenticated.


“I consider it the most important piece that was still missing from the museum,” said Massachusetts College of Art Professor John Russell, who spent nine months restoring the Baghdad collection.


Dating to 2400 BC, the headless statue weighs 300 pounds and is made of diorite, a black stone similar to granite. Its back and biceps are inscribed in ancient Sumerian cuneiform that lists the king’s accomplishments and declares that “the god Enlil” loves him.


US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad called the return of the artifact “an excellent omen that Iraq is succeeding”, but neither he nor the other officials addressed protesters who chanted “US out of Iraq” outside the embassy.


The officials also did not mention a plan announced by Maliki and President George W Bush earlier on Tuesday to use more US troops to secure Baghdad, an effective acknowledgment that the latest attempt to control sectarian violence in the capital had failed. — Reuter.