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Iraqi soldiers seize apparently stolen relics

  • Story Highlights
  • Soldiers seized 228 apparently stolen artifacts last week, security official says
  • Seven members of gang suspected of trafficking in stolen relics arrested
  • Seizures, arrests made in southern Iraq's Basra province
  • Items include sculptures, jewelry, decorative silverware and ceramic bowls
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From Mohammad Tawfeeq
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi soldiers have seized 228 apparently stolen antiquities and arrested seven members of a gang suspected of trafficking in such items, a security official in Basra said Tuesday.

Soldiers in Abi al-Khasib in southern Iraq's Basra province last week found 168 items and arrested five people in one raid and seized 60 more artifacts and detained two people in another, the official said.

The troops found sculptures, intricate gold jewelry, decorative silverware and ceramic bowls buried in gardens and under a stone slab in a kitchen.

Abdul Zahra al-Talaqani, a spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, said the ministry learned of the raids this week and is awaiting more details about the items. A special committee has been formed to work with the security forces, he said.

The artifacts are to be sent to the National Museum in Baghdad for inspection.

Information on where or when the artifacts may have been stolen wasn't available.

In 2003, looters took thousands of artifacts from the National Museum in the chaotic aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. An unknown amount also was looted from Iraq's estimated 12,000 archeological sites.

The security official said British troops, who have overseen coalition operations in southern Iraq, were not involved in last week's operation.

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