The United States reportedly sent around 17,000 archaeological antiquities back to Iraq, which had been illegally smuggled from the country over the decades.

Iran PressMiddle East: Iraqi Culture Minister Hassan Nazim said that the artifacts were returned onboard the flight of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi after meeting US President Joe Biden in Washington.

Hailing the move as the "largest return of antiquities to Iraq" and the "result of months of efforts by the Iraqi authorities in conjunction with their embassy in Washington," Nazim expressed his hope that "in the near future we will be able to recover the rest of our goods, especially in Europe."

His ministry identified the artifacts as recording the "commercial exchanges during the Sumerian period" as well as some which are historically prominent, such as a 3,500-year-old clay tablet with a sequence from the famed epic of Gilgamesh.

That tablet, along with others, was seized by the US Department of Justice in 2019 after it was placed two years prior in the Bible Museum in Washington, which documents and showcases ancient biblical history. It was initially purchased by the museum's owner and founder – billionaire David Green who also owns the Hobby Lobby store chain – for $1.67 million in 2014, after it was smuggled to the US in 2003 by a dealer who bought it from a Jordanian antiquities' trader in London.

Other artifacts were traded illegally by dealers in Israel and the United Arab Emirates, making up the vast network of smugglers in the underground antiquities market that characterizes the fate of the archaeology of the Mesopotamia region, which has been plundered over decades of instability and conflict in Iraq and the Levant.

In 2017, it was reported that the terror group Daesh was making $100 million per year through its looting and selling of historical artifacts in the region.

The tablet's journey and the US Justice Department's handing over the artifacts to the Iraqi government signify a huge step in returning ancient antiquities and artifacts to their lands of origin, which various countries and organizations have urged European and Western countries to do for decades.

Washington's return of the 17,000 artifacts is part of Baghdad's drive to recover tens of thousands of its lost historical items in recent years and comes after the British government and the British Museum returned looted artifacts to the country last year.