Iraq’s Museums 10 Years Later

This is my first blog post, and it happens to fall the day after the ten-year anniversary of the U.S. war with Iraq. The anniversary has mostly passed unnoticed in Washington, according to the New York Times, and I don’t think there’s been a lot of attention in the media, either (perhaps unsurprisingly since the mainstream media was so passive in the face of the Bush regime’s unjustified rush to war, as L.A. Times blogger Robin Abcarian reminds us).

It may seem trivial to talk about the cultural costs of a war that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives (many of them civilian lives). But the state of Iraqi heritage can actually tell us a lot about how the country is doing and what stumbling blocks remain. The Art Newspaper’s Martin Bailey wrote yesterday that of 16,000 artifacts that were looted from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, only about 8,000 have been recovered. An audit of the museum’s collection has not yet been completed. While Italy is helping to renovate the museum, it remains closed, and political infighting in the Iraqi government has complicated matters.

The only positive piece of news is that Basra is getting a new museum in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, and it should open next year, at a cost of about $5 million. The project is funded by the Basra Provincial Council and foreign donors.

It seems too bad, though, that foreign donors are more interested in starting a new museum than in preserving an old one. I imagine that $5 million would go a long way at the National Museum of Iraq. The British Museum has been spearheading the project in Basra, but hasn’t been involved in restoring Baghdad’s museum. Is this because the Italians have taken the lead in Baghdad?

Photo via Wikimedia Commons