| Updated at: 1541 PST, Tuesday, September 21, 2010|
BAGHDAD: Iraq has recovered more than 600 historical artefacts that had been stolen and then recovered but mistakenly stored in a warehouse in the country for around two years, a minister said on Monday.
The 638 items include statues, spearheads and glass cups that were taken from Iraq and actually returned to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office in late 2008, but only accounted for recently.
"Yesterday (Sunday), we received 638 pieces from the prime minister that were seized by US Customs," Tourism and Archaeology Minister Qahtan Abbas Numan told a news conference at the National Museum in Baghdad.
The items, some dating to the third millennium BC, had been stored in a warehouse alongside common kitchen utensils, after being repatriated by the US military.
"When they arrived in Baghdad, the US army handed them over to the prime minister's office, but the transfer was conducted without any representatives for antiquities and heritage in attendance," Numan said.
The boxes they had been transported in were also not properly labelled, he said, so they were stored in a warehouse from autumn 2008. Eventually, an inquiry triggered by Maliki's office recovered the artefacts.
"This is a great day for the National Museum," said Qais Hussein Rashid, the chairman of Iraq's Board of Antiquities and Heritage.
"These items, which provide an account of the civilisation of Mesopotamia, will finally regain their rightful place in the museum."
In the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion, nearly 32,000 pieces were stolen from 12,000 archaeological sites across Iraq, and 15,000 others disappeared from the National Museum in Baghdad, according to official figures.
Thousands of artefacts were also taken before the invasion from illegal excavations at remote sites.