Iraqi police seize stolen artifacts on way to be smuggled abroad
Azzaman, November 16, 2011
Iraqi police in the southern Province of Najaf have seized 40 artifacts belonging to different Mesopotamian periods, an Antiquities Department official said.
Abdulzahra al-Talaqani, the department’s spokesperson said, the stolen pieces were on their way to be smuggled out of the country.
Talaqani claimed the recent months have seen a surge in police activities in protecting Mesopotamian ruins.
Iraqi antiquities, like almost everything else in Iraq, have been the main victims of the 2003-U.S. invasion in whose immediate aftermath the Iraq Museum and several other provincial museums were looted.
Smugglers and illegal diggers invaded ancient sites and tens of thousands of artifacts are believed to have either been stolen or illegally dug up and sold.
Talaqani said smugglers and illegal diggers face harsh penalties if caught.
“Trading with stolen or smuggled ancient finds is punishable by at least 15 years in prison,” he said. “Using force to attack ancient sites and museums could lead to execution.”
At least one person was taken into custody pending trial when Najaf police stormed a house where the stolen pieces were kept, Talaqani said.
He did not comment on the archaeological significance of the artifacts.