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Originally published Friday, April 10, 2009 at 2:35 PM

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US: Saddam's chrome AK-47 being returned to Iraq

A pearl-handled, chrome-plated AK-47 that belonged to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is being sent back to Iraq as a "cultural artifact," the federal customs agency said Friday.

NEW YORK —

A pearl-handled, chrome-plated AK-47 that belonged to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is being sent back to Iraq as a "cultural artifact," the federal customs agency said Friday.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the automatic rifle was surrendered by the U.S. Army, which had been holding the weapon at Fort Lewis in Washington.

The rifle, which has a photo of Hussein near the sight, is a prized souvenir in the Middle East, ICE said in a news release. Spokesman Lou Martinez said the Iraqi government said Hussein gave similar weapons as gifts.

The AK-47 was fully operational but was disabled by the Army before it came into the U.S., Martinez said.

Martinez said Iraq recently requested the return of the weapon, ICE traced it to Fort Lewis and the Army cooperated. The rifle was flown to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey on Monday and will remain in ICE custody in New York until arrangements are made to send it to Iraq, he said.

Martinez said he did not know how the Army obtained the weapon, but that it was brought to the United States legally and through official Army channels. A spokesman at Fort Lewis, Joseph Kubistek, said the weapon was brought to the U.S. in September 2007, but he could not determine the circumstances of its recovery.

Martinez said the Army had planned to put the rifle in a museum.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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