Antiquities and Archaeology
Countdown to reopening
Iraq’s National Museum set to fully open this spring, US and UK tours may follow
By Martin Bailey. Museums, Issue 220, January 2011
Published online: 11 January 2011
baghdad. Iraq’s National Museum is expected to reopen in March, for the first time since Saddam Hussein’s rule. Although the Assyrian and Islamic displays were reinstalled in two main rooms in 2008, they have only been accessible to VIPs and invited groups. “It will be the answer to my dreams when we can finally reopen to the public,” said Amira Edan, the museum’s director.
The Baghdad museum was closed in late 2002, a few months before the coalition’s invasion. It had also been shut from the 1991 Gulf War to April 2000. This means that the museum has been open for not much more than two of the past 20 years, virtually barring it from an entire generation of Iraqis.
The Iraqi government called on Amira in January 2009 to reopen the whole museum, as a symbol that normality was being restored. She resisted this pressure, arguing that more time was needed for upgrading the building and that the security situation remained too dangerous. She was sacked from her second post as head of the state board of antiquities over this issue, although she retained her position as museum director.
Last month Amira said that improvements to the 23 galleries after the April 2003 looting should be completed by the beginning of this month. This will include a sophisticated security system. Work has been partly funded by the US government, under its $13m Iraq Cultural Heritage Project.
The key question is the level of security in Baghdad, particularly in the area around the museum. A suicide bomber killed 59 people and injured 250 when he exploded a bomb outside the nearby foreign ministry in October 2009, which also caused minor damage at the museum.
Security in Baghdad is now improved, although Amira was worried by the incident on 31 October 2010, in which 58 people were killed in a terrorist attack on Baghdad’s cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation. In March the security situation will be reviewed before the reopening.
Once the museum is open, thoughts are likely to turn towards the prospect of an international tour of Iraqi antiquities. Amira said that it would be appropriate to send them to institutions such as the British Museum and the Field Museum, Chicago, which have been assisting the Baghdad museum. She stresses that any decision would have to be taken by the ministry of culture and the first priority is to “bring back antiquities that had been smuggled abroad”.
Amira says she also hopes that soon British archaeologists who have been unable to visit Iraq because of the security risks would be able to return.
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