Looted Iraqi museum hopes to reopen, minus many relics

Fri Jan 17, 2014 4:50am EST
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By Alexander Dziadosz

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A decade on from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and whipped up a tsunami of theft in Baghdad, Iraq's National Museum is preparing to display its treasures of Mesopotamian culture - even if thousands are missing.

The looting of the museum under the eyes of U.S. troops has sometimes been compared to the Mongol sack of the Grand Library of Baghdad in 1258. Then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shrugged it off with the comment "stuff happens".

But if many Iraqis still see the museum's looting as a symbol of the cavalier recklessness of the invasion, its current state is emblematic of the bloodshed, political discord and bureaucratic dysfunction that have racked Iraq ever since.

Museum workers also hope it could one day encapsulate the promise and achievements of an oil-rich country which for millennia sat at the heart of human civilization.

"The museum is now displaying some of the stolen antiquities that were recovered and restored. From a historical perspective and in terms of restoration, it's a very good thing, and they're ready to be presented," Shaimaa Abdel Qader, a tour guide with the museum, told Reuters on a recent visit.

The museum is open to visitors who get special permits - mostly students, officials and foreign dignitaries - but could admit the general public as early as February or March, depending on construction and preparation efforts, she said.

The plundering of the museum, whose collection comprises artifacts from over 5,000 years of Mesopotamian history, was one of the most sensational episodes in the immediate aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Halls and display cases were stripped of priceless sculptures, amulets, coins and cylinder seals.   Continued...

A limestone statuette from the archaelogical site of Warka is displayed at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad December 31, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad