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Middle East
Iraq reopens looted national museum
Minister says only fraction of items stolen following US-ivasion have been returned.
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2009 05:45 GMT
Only a fraction of the items stolen in 2003 have
been returned to the museum
 [AFP]

Iraq's national museum has reopened, almost six years after it was ransacked by looters in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of the country.

A small ceremony, attended by Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, marked the occasion on Monday, a day before the museum opens to the public.

Qahtan Abbas, Iraq's tourism and antiquities minister, told guests at the ceremony that only 6,000 items had so far been returned to the museum.

A total of 15,000 statues and other artefacts were looted from the premesis in April 2003, after US forces toppled Saddam Hussein, then Iraq's president.

US troops, the only power in the Iraqi capital at the time, were criticised for not protecting the museum's collection.

Donny George, the former director of the Iraq Museum, has accused them of committing "the crime of the century" by not intervening.

Renovation completed

The Iraq Museum, which has stood at its present location since 1966, last year completed the renovation of its Islamic and Assyrian halls, thanks to a $1.1m donation and technical help from Italy.

It is also displaying artifacts from the Sumerian and Babylonian eras.

Critics warn that the museum is being reopened before adequate security and proper cataloguing of the returned items are in place, a claim the government has rejected.

The archaeological wealth of Iraq, historically known as Mesopotamia, shows some of the first evidence of complex urban life appearing within its borders around 3,000 BC.

"We want to make our museum a place which will be at the forefront of international museums," al-Maliki said, and called on archaeologists to help make Iraq "a mecca for research" into the history of mankind.

Up to 7,000 pieces are still missing, including about 40 to 50 considered of great historical importance, according to UNESCO, the UN cultural body.

Many other historical sites in Iraq were looted after Saddam was toppled from power.

Source:
Agenicies
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