"The board is determined to recover the first and last Iraqi artifact smuggled abroad, and we will not give up a single piece of it, regardless of its size and importance," said Laith Hussein, head of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage of the Culture Ministry.
There is international cooperation in recovering the antiquities that were looted and stolen from the archaeological sites and the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. Hundreds of lawsuits are filed by the ministry outside Iraq on stolen artifacts.
According to Hussein, the Iraqi authorities have great difficulty in protecting archaeological sites in Iraq as the country is "like a museum," where thousands of archaeological sites spread widely across its land from north to south.
"Nevertheless, the board continues to intensify monitoring of archaeological sites by fencing them with wires and increasing the number of guards to prevent their damage," he noted.
About 15,000 pieces of cultural relics from the Stone Age through the Babylonian, Assyrian, and Islamic periods were stolen or destroyed by looters, mainly in the Iraq Museum, after Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled by U.S.-led troops in 2003.
Then after the Islamic State (IS) militants took control of large territories in northern and western Iraq in 2014, the museum of Mosul as well as the ancient cities of Hatra and Nimrud were destroyed, with large numbers of antiquities smuggled.
Over 10,000 sites in Iraq are officially recognized as archaeological sites, but most of them are not safeguarded and many are still being looted.