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Body of international experts head to Babylon to determine extent of damage inflicted by US army

Minister wants to reopen Baghdad Museum despite risks

An international mission is due to visit Babylon shortly, to examine damage caused by the Coalition occupation and discuss a management plan. The Art Newspaper can report that the small team was to have travelled at the beginning of December, but the trip had to be aborted after a rocket attack at the UN compound killed two people on 29 November.

Security and travel for the international Babylon team will be arranged by American forces. Lying 100 kilometres south of Baghdad, a military base was established at the site in 2003-04, resulting in unintended damage to archaeological remains.

Meanwhile, the World Monuments Fund is assisting with a project on “The Future of Babylon”, organised with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. Mapping and documentation is the first task. The US State Department is providing initial funding of $700,000. A project coordination meeting will be held in New York in March.

Museum opening

In a separate development, the Iraqi government is forcing the Baghdad Museum to reopen (following the looting in 2003), despite the security risks. Early last month minister of tourism and antiquities, Dr Qahtan Al-Jibori, entered the museum accompanied by armed bodyguards. Staff felt under threat when he ordered that the museum must reopen by mid-February. Dr Amira Edan, museum director and acting chairman of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, stated that she was worried about the security of the collection.

In December 2007 two museum galleries were refurbished, but they are only open for VIPs. The US State Department has supported a further reopening, with assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, Goli Ameri, visiting the museum on 20 October 2008. Her visit coincided with an announcement that the State Department is giving $14m for cultural projects in Iraq.

Museum staff have opposed a reopening, because the collection could be vulnerable to theft or sabotage. This view is shared by Dr Donny George, former head of the antiquities board and now in exile in America.

Following last month’s tense meeting with Dr Amira Edan, the minister ordered her to be sacked as chairman of the antiquities board, although it remains unclear whether she still heads the museum. The new acting chairman of the antiquities board is Qais Husein Rashid, director of archaeological excavations.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Experts head to Babylon to access damage'