Art Pottery, Politics and Food
Monday, February 07, 2005
"The what museum...?"

The entrance to the Iraq National Museum, May 2003

The Art Newspaper, this morning, ends the widespread media silence on the present condition of Iraq’s antiquities and museums and it is not pleasant reading.
The paper’s information came from a report by the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) delivered in January to an Iraq session at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting in Boston.
According to that report:

All museums remain closed, and looting of archaeological sites continues.

While I’ve read a few scattered press reports about damage to the remains of Babylon and to Hellenistic, Roman, and Islamic-period buildings in the north near Hatra from controlled explosions by US military and construction, the report presented information regarding other Iraqi museums I’ve have not seen previously published:

The Basra Museum is occupied by squatters, the Nasiriya Museum was burned, the Amara Museum was damaged but has been refurbished, the museums at Kufa and Nejef are occupied by the Islamist party, the new Tikrit Museum was destroyed by cruise missiles at the outset of the war (it was empty at the time), and the Mosul Museum, hit by a shell that damaged the Hatrian gallery roof…the museum was looted with 30 bronze panels from the 9th-century BC Assyrian city of Balawat among the losses.

Aside from the generalized antiquarian looting which continues across Iraq, the SBAH reported that of the 15,000 items looted from Iraq National Museum storerooms “10,000 have been documented and 3,323 returned.”
The report also presented some numbers for Iraqi antiquities seized by the customs in five countries that I have not previously observed in the world’s media:

Saudi Arabia (18 items), Kuwait (38), Syria (360), and Jordan (1,250), as well as about 600 items by US Customs…Turkey and Iran have not disclosed what they have seized, despite requests from SBAH.

A search of US Customs and Interpol websites reveals dated information and no lists of recovered Iraqi objects.
The only document on the US Customs & Border Protection site was the Bonner Alert for stolen Iraqi Art dated April 18, 2003.
Documents on the Interpol site all dealt with their Tracking Task Force to Fight Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property Stolen in Iraq held in Lyon, France on November 12 and 13, 2003.

New Islamic Museum

The Art Newspaper also reports that Iraqi-born British architect and designer of Cincinnati’s own Contemporary Art Center Zaha Hadid has agreed to design a £2.25 ($3.38) million Islamic Museum in the Iraqi capital to be completed by autumn 2006.

Images: Reuters, The Art Newspaper

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