Hurt by war in Iraq, a Baghdad museum reemerges
A new exhibit opened this month at the Iraqi Museum, providing one more sign that the worst horrors of the war in Iraq are receding and the country is settling into a new normal.
With a snip of red ribbon, a new exhibit opened Nov. 17 at the Iraqi Museum, providing one more sign that Iraq is leaving behind the worst horrors of war and creating a new normal.Skip to next paragraph
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"You know what we have been through, and it was very dangerous," says Shaimaa, an archaeologist who has worked at the museum since 1999. "So many things are happening that convince us things are changing for the better."
Among them is the reemergence of her beloved museum, after being devastated by looting early in the war.
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"We were heartbroken – it's like someone takes your heart, or takes one of your children. Any human would feel this way," says Shaimaa, who would only give her first name. "But we are optimistic people ... we have turned back, with so much help." Indeed, the transformation at the museum – where 15,400 priceless artifacts were carted away by looters soon after US forces entered Baghdad in 2003 – shows a determined optimism, in a nation where pessimism has become ingrained.
As US forces prepare to fully withdraw from Iraq in the coming weeks – after toppling Saddam Hussein and getting locked into nearly nine years of occupation, insurgency, and sectarian civil war that cost 4,500 American lives and almost certainly hundreds of thousands of Iraqi ones – even small events are taking on unexpected significance.
Abd al-Zahra al-Talakani, of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, notes a burst of cultural events such as music, stage, and drama productions.
"It's very clear," says Mr. Talakani. "All of these activities have returned to Baghdad its real face, and it will be crowned in 2013 when Baghdad will be announced the capital of Arab culture" by the Arab League.
Iraqis often voice their fear that the Iraqi police and Army are not up to the task of maintaining security once American units leave. Iraqis also complain bitterly about the state of national politics, where a newly installed democratic system has been hamstrung by infighting, and gamed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
But none of that stopped the Iraqi Museum from unveiling a French-sponsored exhibit Nov. 17 on ancient cuneiform writing in Mesopotamia.
Iraqi staff and officials dressed as if for a gala event and hobnobbed with diplomats while French Ambassador Denys Gauer and Iraqi Tourism and Antiquities Minister Liwaa Semeism cut the ribbon.
Early on in the U.S. occupation, American commanders were criticized for leaving most government institutions like the Iraqi Museum unguarded – making them prime targets for looting – while taking special care to protect the Ministry of Oil.
Priceless artifacts from the museum's incomparable 170,000-lot collection of Babylonian, Sumerian, and Assyrian items disappeared, including the remnants of a 5,000-year-old Sumerian alabaster vase and a headless stone statue of a Sumerian king – thought to be 4,400 years old, and weighing hundreds of pounds – which was recovered in the United States in 2006.