Iraq's National Museum, Put Online by Google, Will Reopen Its Physical Doors This Spring

Iraq's National Museum, Put Online by Google, Will Reopen Its Physical Doors This Spring
Its collections have still not recovered from wartime looting, and security remains a big concern in light of persistent terrorist attacks in Baghdad, but the National Museum of Iraq will at last reopen to the public in March. With international assistance and new security measures, the museum is ready once again to display its remarkable Mesopotamian art objects and artifacts — and hopes to restore those that are still missing.

The United States government has given $13 million through the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project to fund the museum's renovation, which includes a sophisticated security system, the Art Newspaper reports. The safety improvements should be completed this month, though terrorist attacks like the one at Baghdad's cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in October, which killed 58 people, remain a source of concern.

When the museum was closed in late 2002, a few months before the war began, it was just less than a year after reopening from its previous lengthy dormant period under Saddam Hussein, who shuttered it during the 1991 Gulf War. This means that over the past 20 years it has only been accessible a bit longer than two years. Museum director Amira Edan had long refused to reopen the museum, citing the need for security improvements, when the Iraqi government requested that it be reopened in 2009. After she refused, Edan was stripped of her position as head of the state board of antiquities, though she was allowed to remain museum director. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki did reopen the museum in 2009, but only partially, for a brief period, and to a select group of visitors — including Google CEO Eric Schmidt, as part of the search company's project to put the National Museum's collection online.

Amira said that the museum's first priority is to "bring back antiquities that had been smuggled abroad." An international tour of Iraq antiquities may be planned and would most likely include the British Museum and Chicago's Field Museum, both of which have assisted the museum, as has the Italian government. This fall, the U.S. repatriated several objects to Iraq, including a 4,400-year-old statue of King Entemena. At that time, it was estimated that only one third to one half of the 15,000 looted items had been recovered.