Great Britain has promised to return more than 5,000 ancient artefacts to Iraq over the next few months. The announcement was made by the British government during the visit of the Iraqi Prime Minister to London earlier this week. The repatriation marks the largest ever return of antiquities by the UK. Many of the items set to return to Iraq were stolen and smuggled out of Iraq over the past century, particularly after the Iraqi wars at the beginning of the century. There is a lucrative trade in stolen artefacts. Iraq's ambassador to the UK was appreciative of the UK's help. He said: "We extend our gratitude to the British Museum staff for their efforts and cooperation with us."
Many of the artefacts that will soon be on their way back to Iraq were unearthed by British archaeologists a century ago. One valuable item is a rare Sumerian plaque that dates back to around 2400BC. It was illegally smuggled out of Iraq and put up for auction in 2019. It was discovered and seized by police in London. The plaque will be put on public display at the museum before its repatriation. The British Museum said it would continue, "to work with our Iraqi colleagues to research these important collections, and in the fight against the illicit trade in antiquities". It added: "It is vital that we preserve and protect the world's cultural heritage for future generations to appreciate and enjoy."