Saturday, February 14th, 2009
After the nightmare of post-invasion looting and with thousands of pieces still missing, Baghdad’s National Museum is scheduled to reopen by the end of February.
They’ve been renovating the space for months, and restoring the 5,000 recovered antiquities out of the 15,000 estimated to have been destroyed or stolen. Most importantly, they’re actively working to prevent anything like this happening again.
The museum and other archaeological sites will be protected by a newly formed Interior Ministry force called the “relics protection force,” Jibouri said in an interview.
The force will aim to prevent a repeat of the devastation of April 2003 when looters robbed the museum of some 15,000 priceless artefacts as part of a wave of theft from public buildings after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell.
Saddam Hussein was no great steward of the Cradle of Civilization. Archaeological sites were plundered all the time under his rule, so this is a major (and very much welcome) shift in attitude to Iraq’s immense cultural patrimony.
Qahtan al-Jibouri, Iraq’s minister for tourism and antiquities quoted above, is also hoping the reopening of the museum will usher in a new era of tourism and associated revenues. The budget is tight, needless to say, so an influx of tourist cash would make a big difference.
For years the main source of Iraqi tourism has been Iranian pilgrims visiting religious sites. Hard to believe, but the enormous wealth of Mesopotamian history never really made it onto the brochure until now.