Nov 25, 2007

Rare Good News in Iraq


There appears to be some rare good news in Baghdad of late. There are indications that attacks in Iraq are way down. Also, John Swain of the Sunday Times reports today on the likely reopening of the Baghdad Museum next month, according to Amira Emiran the acting director.
Visits will be confined to just two galleries on the ground floor containing Assyrian and Islamic treasures that are too large and heavy to be easily removed. The remaining 16 galleries will remain empty and closed and security will be tight. Nevertheless, Iraqi and American officials are keen to portray the opening as a sign that security in Baghdad has improved after the chaos of the past few years...

The Assyrian Hall has monumental sculptures, including stone panels from the royal palace at Khorsabad and two winged bulls. The other large gallery that is opening, the Islamic Hall, has the eighth century mihrab from the Al-Mansur mosque in Baghdad. It is also hoped to display 10 monumental Parthian sculptures from Hatra in the courtyard which links the two galleries and through which visitors will pass.

The decision was welcomed by Matthew Bogdanos, a colonel in the US Marine Corps reserves, who investigated the theft and destruction of thousands of artefacts from the museum and from thousands of Iraq’s poorly protected historic sites where looting has been conducted “on an industrial scale” since the war.

Bogdanos, a New York prosecutor, said: “I don’t know if there is any such thing as a right or wrong moment to open the museum. But great things are won by great risk and the museum should open and it should stay open. If it means doubling security, then double security.”

Estimates of the number of missing objects vary, but about 10,000 objects are probably still missing, out of a total of 15,000 objects taken. One piece still missing is the ivory plaque pictured above, Lioness Attacking a Nubian, 8th c. BC. News of the reopening is welcome news, especially given it was seldom open to the public in the two decades preceding the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The announcement was made last week at the meeting of UNESCO's International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of Iraqi Cultural heritage.


The news from Iraq is not all good however. The Bush administration is tempering its goals in Iraq, as military progress has been gained but the US will begin its major drawdown of troops following the "surge", (i.e. escalation). US Officials are lowering their expectations, dropping plans for an oil-sharing plan and regional elections. The increase has yielded some important military successes, reflected in the decrease in attacks, but this military presence is not sustainable. One wonders if the decision to reopen the museum was made by Iraqi's or if it was encouraged by their American counterparts. Even if it were the latter, the fact that Iraqis may now be able to view some objects safely is perhaps cause for cautious optimism.


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