Iraq reopens museum 12 years after looting

2015-02-28 18:18
FBI image of an English-speaking individual, who was seen in a propaganda video released in September of 2014 by the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. (FBI, AFP)

FBI image of an English-speaking individual, who was seen in a propaganda video released in September of 2014 by the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. (FBI, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Baghdad - Iraq's national museum officially reopened on Saturday after 12 years of painstaking efforts during which close to a third of 15 000 pieces looted during the US-led invasion were recovered.

The reopening was brought forward in what officials said was a response to the destruction of priceless artefacts by Islamic State group jihadists in the northern city of Mosul.

"We have been preparing to reopen for the past couple of months, the museum should be open to everyone," Qais Hussein Rashid, the deputy tourism and antiquities minister, told AFP.

"The events in Mosul led us to speed up our work and we wanted to open it today as a response to what the gangs of Daesh did," he said, using an Arabic acronym for the ISIS group.

On Thursday, the jihadists who have occupied Iraq's second city of Mosul since June last year released a video in which militants smash ancient statues with sledgehammers in the city's museum.

Militants are also seen using a jackhammer to deface a colossal 40-ton Assyrian winged bull in an archaeological park in Mosul.

The destruction sparked global outrage, calls for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and fears over the fate of other major heritage sites in areas under ISIS control.

The Mosul destruction was the worst disaster to strike Iraq's treasures since the national museum in Baghdad was looted in the chaos that followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

The pictures of jihadists gleefully hacking away at treasures dating back several centuries before Christ drew comparisons with the 2001 dynamiting by the Taliban of the Bamiyan buddhas in Afghanistan.

One jihadist speaking to the camera claims they are destroying them on religious grounds because the statues are symbols of idolatry.

But officials and experts argue the ISIS militants are seen destroying the pieces that are too bulky to be smuggled and sold to finance their self-proclaimed "caliphate".

Hunt continues

The 2003 plundering of the Baghdad museum, footage of which was beamed around the world at the time, has been compared to the 13th century Mongol sack of the city's library.

The museum was considered to host one of the world's greatest archaeological collections.

Officials said on Saturday that about 15 000 pieces were looted in 2003, of which 4 300 have been recovered.

"We are still tracking down more than 10 000 artefacts in markets and auctions. What we got back were the most important," Rashid said.

After cutting a red ribbon at an official ceremony, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said: "Today the message is clear from Baghdad, from the land of Mesopotamia.

"We will preserve civilisation and we will track down those who want to destroy it," he said.

Rashid said the reopening would help heal the wounds of the Mosul looting.

"We don't want 26 February to be a day of sadness and gloom... reopening the museum sends a message at home and abroad that it should be restored as a touristic and cultural institution," he said.

The museum is due to reopen to the public on Sunday. Tickets will cost 1 500 Iraqi dinars (just over a dollar), $10 dollars for Arabs and $20 for other foreigners.

The Mosul museum, which UNESCO museology expert Stuart Gibson described as "a small jewel" constructed on the gardens of the former palace of King Faisal of Iraq, was also pillaged in 2003.

Archaeologists have expressed fears the jihadists would go on to destroy more heritage in the areas they control, possibly the Assyrian site of Nimrud and the UNESCO-listed ancient city of Hatra.

Abadi warned traffickers and buyers that Iraq and its partners would not relent in its hunt for looted artefacts.

"We have details on every artefact in Mosul, every piece is marked, and we will track down all the pieces smuggled by Daesh and the terrorist groups, we will track them down and all the world is with us."

Read more on:    isis  |  iraq

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.