More than 17,000 looted ancient artefacts recovered from the US and other countries have been handed to Iraq’s Culture Ministry, a restitution described by the government as the largest in the country’s history.

The majority of the artefacts date back 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia and were recovered from the US in a recent trip by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Other pieces were also returned from Japan, the Netherlands and Italy, foreign minister Fuad Hussein said in a joint press conference with culture minister Hasan Nadhim.

Antiquities displayed at the foreign ministry in Baghdad (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

Mr Nadhim said the recovery was “the largest in the history of Iraq” and the product of months of effort between the government and Iraq’s embassy in Washington.

“There’s still a lot of work ahead in this matter. There are still thousands of Iraqi artefacts smuggled outside the country,” he said.

“The United Nations resolutions are supporting us in the international community and the laws of other countries in which these artefacts are smuggled to are on our side.

“The smugglers are being trapped day after day by these laws and forced to hand over these artefacts.”

The artefacts were handed over to the Culture Ministry in large wooden crates.

Iraq Artifacts
Boxes of artefacts at the foreign ministry (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

A few were displayed but the ministry said the most significant pieces will be examined and later displayed to the public in Iraq’s National Museum.

Iraq’s antiquities have been looted throughout decades of war and instability since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Iraq’s government has been slowly recovering the plundered antiquities, but archaeological sites across the country continue to be neglected owing to lack of funds.

At least five shipments of antiquities and documents have been returned to Iraq’s museum since 2016, according to the Foreign Ministry.