Recovered Iraqi artifacts include a Saddam Hussein medallion, two government seals of Hussein commemorating the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War and a painting of Hussein, seen above. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

An estimated 15,000 pieces were stolen from Iraq’s National Museum in pillaging after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and many more are believed to have been smuggled out since then by U.S. military personnel and contractors. More than half of the items that have turned up in the United States or elsewhere have been repatriated to Iraq, but treasured items remain missing.

The looting of the museum “was heartbreaking for every Iraqi,” the Iraqi ambassador to Washington, Samir Sumaidaie, said at a ceremony Thursday at the Iraqi Cultural Center to reclaim the items. “It was really an attack against our identity – and made us feel that our entire being was threatened.”

Investigators from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tracked down the most recent finds as part of four separate investigations – in Florida, New Jersey, Texas and Arkansas – over the course of several years. The items include a Western Asiatic necklace believed to date to the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., serving pieces and utensils inscribed with the crest of Iraq’s Baath Party, and a marble slab from one of Hussein’s palaces.

The slab was initially discovered on Craigslist, where it had been listed for sale by a member of the U.S. Army. Investigators, posing as interested buyers, contacted the seller online and later met him at his house. When they got there, he led them to his garage, where the slab was being kept. He said he obtained it while patrolling towns in Iraq.

Approximately 30 items were returned Thursday. There are hundreds more to go, but the ambassador said that each repatriation provided some solace.

“Iraq has endured a great deal,” Sumaidaie said, “but on days like this, we rekindle hope.”