My Visit to the Iraqi National Museum (Photo Gallery)

Here is a photo gallery from my visit on May 9, 2013, to the Iraqi National Museum, courtesy the Ministry of Culture. Ancient Iraq or Mesopotamia was, of course, the cradle of civilization, and the treasures on display are breathtaking.

Donald Rumsfeld allowed thousands of items to be looted from the museum in 2003. (US soldiers watched the looting happen but were ordered not to intervene). Many artifacts have been recovered but 3000 – 7000 are still missing. Most of the really important and striking pieces are back on display. Some things, including precious cuneiform tablets chronicling the dawn of civilization, were forever destroyed. The damage to the museum and its collection is yet another black mark against the Bush administration and, sorry, the United States of America, which by its illegal and brutal invasion and occupation diminished our store of knowledge about a crucial period of world history.

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18 Responses

  1. Many more of the artifacts that were held in Baghdad ended up destroyed or looted and sold who knows where after the US “liberation” in 2003.

    While Mesopotamia is the cradle of Western civilization, it took one of its off springs to set such civilization back few centuries.

  2. Thanks for sharing these treasures, Professor Cole. This is wonderful that so many of the really beautiful and important items have been preserved and displayed again. I hope that the great cache of cylinder seals and cunieform tablets can eventually be recovered and put on display as well.

  3. Absolutely fascinating. I wonder how many Jewish artifacts were stolen and were missing. Thanks for sharing.
    BTW, from my experience, there were many Iranians who were happy about Saddam Hussein being toppled, because of of his cruelty and the fact that he was an enemy of the people of Iran.

    • The Iranians might have been happy about the fall of Saddam who had waged a savage eight-year war against them, but at least they did not instigate, plan and wage the war on the basis of lies as was done by US neocons who had been previously backing Saddam during the war.

  4. Incredible! So beautifully carved and detailed, and so lifelike one can “see” them actually walking and speaking. I’m struck by the difference between these works of art and the religiously stylized forms of pharaonic Egypt–and yet the two cultures did have contact.

  5. Thank you for sharing these photos with us. I hope to visit this museum myself one day; in the meantime, I am enchanted by this mini-tour.

  6. Thank you so much for these great photos. I will probably never get there so the photos are wonderful. I have FB friends who work in the museum, but no one has ever sent me or posted a single photo. I don’t know if they are forbidden to do so. I read a report about the museum being incomplete, with items somewhat poorly labelled & displayed.I know they keep working on displays. I offered to help with labelling!! I think I will volunteer again.

  7. Fascinating.

    Your photos started me thinking. The direct suffering caused to concrete individuals by the US/UK “war of choice” is unfathomable enough. This crime against culture – the destruction for all future generations of this part of the human historical record – is yet another thing altogether.

    Must all go unpunished?

    Donald Rumsfeld, where are you now?

  8. We all heard so many times that Buddha Statue of Bamiyan was destroyed. On the other hand, I read only once somewhere that American base needed some space near ancient city of Babylon, Americans flattened the ancient historical wall or monument to make space for Helipad.

    When Bush Sr & Bush Jr Bombed Baghdad, it flashed into my mind, aren’t these two doing the same what the Genghis Khan did?

    Is there any difference between these three barbarians?

  9. This is truly a treasure trove, enabling us to glance at some of the remaining glories of the Iraqi National Museum, which was regarded as perhaps the greatest such museum in the Middle East and may be in the world. This site provides us not only with intellectual stimulation and scholarly information about what is going on in the Middle East, but it also provides us with glances into the literature, music, arts and folklore of the people in that part of the world too.

    Sadly, it seems that the looting was not completely random, and from some articles that were published at the time, some of it seemed to have been organized by foreign smugglers. A UNESCO official pointed out at the time: “The economic motive for the looting is still present, with items looted from Iraq fetching high prices once smuggled abroad and being highly sought after by American, European and Japanese collectors.” Already in December 2005, McGuire Gibson, a professor at the University of Chicago, wrote “In one Bond Street shop [in London] I was shown a bag of more than one hundred cylinder seals [from Iraq] and received an apology because they were the poorer quality ones.”

    Later on, US government returned hundreds of antiquities to Iraq, some seized before an auction at the Christies in New York, and some of the curators in Baghdad had already taken some of the items in the middle of the fighting for safe keeping which they returned later to the museum, but God knows how many thousands were either destroyed or are still kept by various dealers in the West and other parts of the world. An article in Al-Ahram in April 2003 pointed out “The looting in Baghdad, lasting over several days, was ignored by US forces occupying the city, who did nothing to prevent it despite the pleas of museum curators and guards.” A member of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq wrote: “This is a tragedy with echoes of past catastrophes, such as the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258, and the fifth-century destruction of the library of Alexandria.” In fact, this time, the scale of destruction seems to have been even more thorough and more complete.

    link to weekly.ahram.org.eg

    link to weekly.ahram.org.eg

    link to nytimes.com;

  10. The Americans behaved like barbarians… maybe that is as good word a word as any to characterize them. Jane

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It is so sad that the cuneiform tablets were destroyed. Do we even have a pictorial record of them? A number of years ago, when I first read about their preservation I remember thinking ‘what a remarkable treasure’. It is a real tragedy that they are gone.

    Alice

  12. These are indeed breathtaking artifacts, and it is good to see them well-displayed, in galleries that the State Department together with others helped restore. But since what we are seeing reflects in part the way in which the US chose to respond to the looting of Iraq’s archaeological heritage, I’d be interested in what Prof. Cole thinks about that response. As I have noted in my book, The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum, and on my blog, while the US plowed financial resources into training curators, fixing the museum (which, according to news reports, still is only half-open), and developing Babylon as a World Heritage tourist destination, it ignored the looting of thousands of archaeological sites over years during the occupation. Iraq’s antiquities police were disbanded and very little done to fill that security gap, or even to acknowledge the extent of the problem. Estimates of the number of artifacts taken from those sites dwarf the number lost in the looting of the museum — and of course, artifacts dug up by tomb robbers lose forever the context we need in order to fully understand what they can tell us about our past. Now we read that the Iraqi government is planning to build a brand new museum.

    The beauty of these galleries should not distract us from asking whether what we are seeing is a Potemkin Village.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Larry!

      Alas, I don’t know the answers to your good questions. But, I think the Museum is more than half open.

    • “while the US plowed financial resources into training curators, fixing the museum (which, according to news reports, still is only half-open), …” Larry Rothfield.

      As you are saying about financial resources plowed by us, I have heard many times on the news that how many millions & billions were allocated to rebuild Iraq & Afghanistan. How much money really reached for that particular purpose?

      On this subject, I read a story in a book “The Great Convergence” that I just finished reading.

      150 million dollars were allocated to rebuild a small area in Afghanistan. People waited for months, but nothing happened. Finally, one person visited a ministry in Kabul to find out what happened to the money, when any work will start.

      He found out that money was send to a company in Switzerland, they took 20 percent their share out of it & remaining was send to a company in Washington DC, they took 20 percent their share, after wards the remaining money was passed through some other hands & everyone took their share out of it. Finally, after many months few trucks arrived with very heavy beams of wood to build the houses. The mud walls could not bear the weight of the beams. The villagers chopped down the beams & used the wood as firewood in during winter.

      During Paul Bremer’s ambassadorship of Iraq 10 billion Dollars were disappeared in thin air. No one knows what happened to that money.

      On paper yes, billions of dollars were allocated for different things, but actually how much money was really spent for a particular project, is any body’s guess, as it is evident that only half museum is open after about ten years..

  13. This is wonderful Professor Cole! I envy you. Hopefully I will get to visit the museum sometime in the near future.

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