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Antiquities Liberated from the Islamic State by US Commandos Are Back in Baghdad

As the Islamic State continues to destroy archaeological sites across the region, ancient artifacts recovered by the US military have been returned to an Iraqi museum.

by VICE News
Jul 15 2015, 3:30pm

Photo by Vivian Salama/AP

A museum in Iraq has received almost 500 artifacts from the United States, after they were recovered by American commandos in a raid on Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria. The antiquities — which included jewelry, pottery, and early Islamic coins — were today put on display at the Baghdad National Museum.

The objects were reportedly seized by the US military in an operation against Abu Sayyaf, an IS commander, in May. The recovery, according to US Ambassador Stuart Jones, "is the first tangible evidence that Daesh [another term for the IS group] are selling artifacts to fund their activities."

Speaking at the museum on Wednesday, Jones said: "Their goal is to sell these antiquities on the global black market."

Related: Islamic State Post Photos of Militants Taking Sledgehammer to Ancient Artifacts from Palmyra, Syria

As the artifacts were put on display, Minister Adel Fahad Sharshab vowed that authorities will recover all missing relics. According to the Associated Press, a proportion of the valuables were stolen during the 2003 invasion of Iraq when the museum was looted, before eventually falling into the hands of IS. Other antiquities disappeared at different times since then.

The Guardian previously reported that IS obtained $36 million from the looting of al-Nabuk in Syria, where antiquities can be up to 8,000 years old. 

According to another testimony, a middleman told the BBC that the group controls the trade, where anyone who wants to excavate in archaeological sites have to gain permission from IS inspectors, and that it takes a 20 percent tax.

In February 2015, the United Nations Security Council approved measures to target sources of funding for IS and the al Nusra Front, including the banning of all trade in looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria, as well as condemning those buying oil, another source of funding, from the extremist groups. 

Yet the destruction of priceless statues and antiquities continues. During its rapid advances across Iraq and Syria, IS fighters have destroyed numerous archaeological sites. 

In March, IS targeted ruins at the ancient city of Hatra in northern Iraq, as well as bulldozing ruins in the Assyrian city of Nimrud in April. Recently, IS militants destroyed two shrines in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Related: Massive Oil Fields Are Iraq's Biggest Asset — And a Huge Liability — in the Fight Against the Islamic State