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18 September 2014
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Return to the Iraq Museum: The Cost of War

By Dan Cruickshank
Dan Cruickshank
Dan Cruickshank 

The reported looting of the famous Iraq Museum during the recent Gulf War was one of the many shocking events of that time. Dan Cruickshank makes a return visit to the museum, and finds that some treasures may, after all, be recovered.

Unimaginable events

I returned to Iraq in mid April 2003, hoping to discover what had happened to the country's museums and archaeological sites during the recent war - and to discuss events with Iraqis I had met during my visit to the country during November last year.

'As Baghdad fell to the US Army, on 9 and 10 April, however, it seemed something had gone horribly wrong.'

My first point of call was the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. In 2002, the museum's Dr Donny George told me that his staff was taking every precaution to protect the museum's contents in the event of war. All large artefacts were to be protected in situ - as far as possible - from bomb or missile attack, with smaller items put into secure storage.

As Baghdad fell to the US Army, on 9 and 10 April, however, it seemed something had gone horribly wrong. By 14 April newspapers around the world were carrying stories about appalling destruction. Museum staff told journalists that 170,000 items had disappeared. It seemed the unimaginable had happened. One of the most important museums on earth had been obliterated.

Urban civilisation, writing, arts and crafts - as well as technological innovations such as the wheel and mathematics - had all started in ancient Mesopotamia 7,000 years ago. And now many of the expression of these momentous developments were dispersed or vandalised. How had this catastrophe happened?

Published: 2003-06-09

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