Washington, D.C. – House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) published the following today on Medium.com highlighting his trip to the Middle East and North Africa, and Wednesday night’s Senate passage of H.R. 1493, sponsored by Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), to combat ISIS trafficking of both Iraqi and Syrian cultural property:

(See the post HERE.)

Stopping the Flow of Blood Antiquities

Few people get to stand among the treasures of Baghdad’s Iraq Museum.

It was closed for years during Saddam Hussein’s rule, and thousands of pieces were looted after his fall. Thankfully, many have since been recovered and are now back on display.

Last week, I had the chance to see them for myself during a trip to Jordan, Iraq, and Tunisia focused on the fight against ISIS.

The museum’s collections are awe-inspiring. Artifacts — some over 10,000 years old — mark the rise and fall of empires, and the evolution of writing and mathematics, science and art.

In one hall, massive stone sculptures of winged bulls stand at post before an equally impressive statue of Nabu, the Babylonian god of wisdom. In another, collections of coins and pottery date to the first half of the first millennium — B.C.

Iraq and neighboring Syria are steeped in history. Tragically, much of this history — when it is not being systematically destroyed by ISIS — is being sold today by these same terrorists to fund sickening acts of violence.

In fact, some reports have estimated ISIS earns as much as $100 million annually from the sale of stolen artifacts, which they sell to middlemen who can peddle these treasures in old-fashioned markets or online. This is big business that fuels ISIS’s drive to inspire and carry out more attacks on the United States and Europe.

That is why I and our Committee’s Ranking Member, Eliot Engel, led the House last June in passing H.R. 1493, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act. This bill will help the U.S. do its part to counter the smuggling and sale of stolen Iraqi and Syrian antiquities.

Specifically, it will strengthen U.S. efforts to protect cultural property, and prevent artifacts recently removed from Syria from being sold or imported into the United States.

This is key because while the United States already restricts the import of Iraqi antiquities, many artifacts from northern Iraq and eastern Syria — where ISIS has taken territory — look very similar. And so we are concerned that smugglers are claiming materials are Syrian — and therefore, currently allowed into the U.S. — when they are in fact from Iraq, to get around these restrictions on Iraqi imports.

I went to Baghdad to meet with the U.S. and Iraqi military and government leaders responsible for taking the fight to ISIS. But I also didn’t want to miss an important opportunity to send a clear message that the United States Congress is committed to leading worldwide efforts to combat the trafficking of both Iraqi and Syrian cultural property. It will cut off cash to ISIS, and ultimately help defeat these terrorists.

So that’s why I was honored to visit the Iraq Museum and see the priceless artifacts that reflect humanity’s common heritage.

And thankfully, after frustrating delay, the Senate acted Wednesday night — unanimously, by the way — to pass our legislation.

I’m looking forward to sending it on to President Obama for his signature as soon as possible.