Arts, Culture & Media

Iraq's national museum reopens

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Iraq's National Museum was formally rededicated today. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did the honors.  He said he’d like to offer his sincerest thanks to all the countries that stood by Iraq, helping to rebuild the museum or returning the smuggled artifacts.

The museum's been closed for about 6 years since the chaotic weeks after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Looters carried off thousands of the museum's ancient treasures. The U.S. military was strongly criticized at the time for failing to protect the museum's collection.

Jane Arraf is Iraq Correspondent for the "Christian Science Monitor:"

"No, it certainly isn’t open for good. This was actually a special case. It was, I have to say, a little bit chaotic, but having said that, it was, unlike the last opening in 2003, which I attended, when the administrator Paul Bremer was there, this was purely an Iraqi show. So what there were today were the president and prime minister, there were cabinet ministers and a lot of journalists trying to get through some very small spaces. So there was, in fact, at a time, a virtual stampede to get into those galleries.

Once you got in, it was only 8 galleries out of the 26 galleries that exist in the museum that were open. And what they focused on are looted pieces that have been returned, the pieces that were primarily looted during that notorious looting of the Baghdad Museum in 2003. What we did see, what’s most prominently on display, are a couple of masterpieces. One of them is known as The Head of Warka, and it’s really one of the earliest representations of the human face that’s known to exist. It’s a beautiful, very simple marble sculpture that was looted and been returned later that year.

"There are, of course, still thousands of pieces missing from that looting; a lot of them are tiny – they’re still in their seals, or they’re coins, but still, in the eyes of archaeologists, still incredibly significant.

"According to the director of the museum, there were fifteen thousand pieces that were looted; that is a much smaller number than had originally been reported, but still very significant, obviously. She says that five thousand of those pieces have been returned, and she just returned from a trip to Peru, for instance, where they recovered three clay tablets that had been seized by U.S. Customs officials.

"There have been a lot of pieces that have been brought back from the U.S., a lot of pieces from Spain, from Jordan, from Syria, from surrounding countries. They, essentially, they’re coming in from everywhere, but there are a lot of pieces still out there that likely will never be recovered."

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