London, Dec 23 (ANI): Ancient treasures stolen from museums in the aftermath of the United States-led invasion of Iraq five years ago have been found in Basra, in one of the biggest recoveries of the loot through a "sting" operation by investigators.
According to a report in The Independent, the priceless artefacts, about 230 of them, were saved as they were about to be smuggled abroad.
Seven members of the gang, which is said to have specialized in trafficking the country's stolen antiquities, have been arrested and are being questioned.
They are also suspected of being involved in the systematic stripping of archaeological sites.
Iraq's museums and archaeological sites - including the National Museum in Baghdad, were plundered as the country descended into chaos after the US led invasion five years ago.
More than 20,000 items, some of the most precious antiquities in the world, went missing.
Museums in Basra and Mosul, Iraq's second- and third-largest cities, were also looted. Much of the heritage of of Mesopotomia, the cradle of human civilisation, disappeared as thieves turned to the archaeological sites.
Some of the stolen artefacts were recovered in Iraq and outside the country. The National Museum has recovered around 3,500 of its 15,000 stolen artefacts.
The ferocious violence in Iraq meant that allied and coalition forces and their Iraqi allies did not have the time or manpower to investigate the thefts.
But now, more efforts are being put in by the Iraqi government to recover the country's plundered cultural heritage.
The Basra investigation began after security forces received intelligence that a haul of the treasures had arrived in the city en route for Kuwait.
An informant introduced two undercover officers from the Iraqi Army's Quick Response to the underworld group as agents of foreign buyers who were keen to see what was on offer.
The officers were shown artefacts wrapped in newspaper and stored in cardboard boxes. They persuaded the gang that their clients needed to see photographs of some of the items.
During the investigation, conducted by Iraqi and British security forces, ancient items destined for private collectors in the Middle East and the West were found buried in gardens and hidden under floors in houses in the suburbs of Basra.
According to Iraqi authorities, they included Sumerian and Babylonian sculpture, intricate gold jewellery, decorative silverware and ceramic bowls.
The artefacts have been sent to Baghdad for analysis and to ascertain their origins. (ANI)