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Hundreds of looted items returned to Iraqi museum

Centerpiece is 4,300-year-old copper statue

A 2,800-year-old wood-and-bronze brazier is back on display in Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad.
A 2,800-year-old wood-and-bronze brazier is back on display in Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- More than 800 artifacts were returned to Iraq's National Museum on Tuesday, nearly eight months after they were looted during the fall of Baghdad.

"This is a very good day in the history of the Iraqi museum" said Mario Bondioli-Osio, senior adviser to the Ministry of Culture.

Antiquities were looted from the museum in the chaotic days after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, but the thefts are not as widespread as initially feared.

Original estimates said 170,000 pieces had been looted from the museum. Coalition officials say a few dozen of the most important items remain missing from the museum's public galleries, along with another 10,000 other items -- most of them tiny and some of them fragments.

Officials have said that hundreds of priceless artifacts were stored in vaults for safekeeping since 1991, and many of those have been returned.

A panel of 30 scholars met soon after the looting to determine the impact of the crimes. The panel suggested some of the looting had been commissioned by collectors and called for an immediate ban on the export of Iraqi antiques and historical objects. (Full story)

The FBI also assisted with the search for missing items.

Culture Minister Muhammad al Jazaari expressed his happiness Tuesday in recovering a 4,300-year-old copper statue, a wood-and-bronze brazier and about 800 other smaller objects from different periods that were stolen in April.

Jazaari praised the Italian-Iraqi Institute of Archaeological Sciences for buying a stolen collection of archaeological pieces with the purpose of returning the items to the museum.

Earlier, the ministry had issued an amnesty for the return of looted artifacts.

Museum director Donny George announced that the amnesty was still open and said Iraqis are bringing back antiquities daily.

"The heritage of the world and mankind's history has been recovered in Iraq, thanks to the efforts of the U.S. [military police] and the Iraqi police."

CNN's Rebecca Bouchebel contributed to this report.

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