National Museum of Iraq to reopen

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186-n-lh-iraq-museum-31.jpgNearly five years after the museum was ransacked, two main galleries should go on view this month; funding has come from Italy
The National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad is due to reopen at the end of December, nearly five years after the looting. Italian officials assisting the Iraqis told The Art Newspaper that work on two main galleries has now been completed. “Barring any last minute security emergencies, the museum will reopen in December,” says Roberto Parapetti, of the Turin-based Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi.

The two galleries which are set to reopen, with Assyrian and Islamic antiquities, contain large and almost immovable objects. This means that the security risks are lower than with smaller items in glass cases. The rooms are on the ground floor, near the main entrance, and lie on either side of the central courtyard.

The Assyrian Hall has monumental sculptures, including stone panels from the royal palace at Khorsabad and two winged bulls. The other large gallery is the Islamic Hall, which has the eighth-century mihrab from the Al-Mansur mosque in Baghdad. It is also hoped to display ten monumental Parthian sculptures from Hatra in the courtyard.

The Baghdad Museum has been closed since April 2003, when part of its contents were looted during the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Although originally it had been hoped to reopen part of the museum in 2004, the security situation worsened, and this proved impossible.

Donny George, director of the museum from November 2003 and head of the antiquities board from August 2005, later resisted pressure from the ministry of interior to reopen the museum. He feared that it could become a target for looters, since the security situation in Baghdad has remained very dangerous. Shortly before he resigned and went into exile in August 2006, he sealed the museum building, preventing even staff entering. His successors subsequently broke down one of the concrete barriers in September this year.

This autumn Iraqi contractors, funded by the Italian Ministry of Culture, have worked on restoring the Assyrian and Islamic halls. The rooms have been refurbished, the antiquities restored where necessary, and security devices have been installed.

On 31 October US army Lt Col Kenneth Crawford and State Department official Diane Siebrandt visited the museum with protection troops. They were shown around by Dr Amira Edan, Dr George’s successor as museum director and now also acting director of the State Board of Antiquities.

Lt Col Crawford told the American Forces Press Service that “it was nice to just get our foot in the door to identify areas of the facility we can maybe help with… [and] getting the museum open to the public.”

At present there are no plans to reopen the 16 other galleries which remain closed.