- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have returned to the Iraqi government stolen cultural antiquities, including three Mesopotamian cylindrical seals from the Akkadian period estimated to date back to between 2340 and 2180 B.C.

The items were turned over this week to Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, during ceremonies in New York, said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE.

“By returning these national treasures, we restore their integrity,” Mr. Garcia said. “Now, these items are no longer classified as illegal contraband, sitting in a seized evidence locker. Instead, these priceless artifacts will soon resume their millennium-old role in helping to highlight the proud and long heritage of the Iraqi people.”

The Mesopotamian seals are about an inch tall and a half-inch in diameter with partially preserved registration numbers that were used in the cataloging system at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. Mr. Garcia said expert analysis concluded the seals were genuine and a comparison to Iraqi National Museum catalog cards confirmed they once belonged to the museum collection.

“We are grateful for the vigilance of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who successfully retrieved and are now returning a part of Iraq’s heritage back to where it belongs,” said Mr. Sumaidaie.

Mr. Garcia said that in June 2003, Joseph Braude arrived at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York from London and, during a routine customs examination, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found three cylindrical stone seals inside his suitcase that had been not been declared on his customs declaration.

He said the marble and alabaster seals variously portrayed human and animal figures and were all marked on the bottom in black ink with the initials “IM” and a serial number.

When questioned, he said Braude claimed he had traveled only to Kuwait and England, but not to Iraq, during his trip.

The objects were seized and Braude was permitted to leave.

Mr. Garcia said ICE brought the seals to an associate professor of ancient Near Eastern art and archeology at Columbia University, who inspected and authenticated them as Mesopotamian cylindrical seals of the Akkadian period. He said the expert concluded the seals had been removed from the Iraqi National Museum.

When questioned at his Cambridge, Mass., home, Braude admitted he had traveled to Baghdad on his trip earlier that month where he purchased the seals for $200, Mr. Garcia said.

Braude, the author of “The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for its People, the Middle East, and the World,” acknowledged that when he bought the seals, he knew they had probably been stolen from the Iraqi National Museum, Mr. Garcia said.

ICE obtained a federal warrant and arrested Braude in August 2003 on smuggling charges. He pleaded guilty in August 2004 and was sentenced to six months of house arrest and two years probation.

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