Iran offers to help Iraq protect its heritage

By expressing their wish to join an international cultural task force, Iran acknowledges the mutual cultural history that ties the two countries

Iran is offering to help Iraq restore its museums and archaeological sites. Although the two countries were involved in a bitter war in the 1980s which led to millions of casualties, last month the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organisation pledged to support its neighbour. Iran’s offer to participate in an international cultural task force was made by the Iranian foreign ministry to Unesco.

The Iranian proposal is controversial because of the reason given for the offer. The deputy director of the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organisation, Mohammad Hassan Moheb Ali, noted that Iraqi heritage was part of the “cultural and civilisational sphere” of Iran. “That is why [its] restoration and preservation is important for Iranian culture and religion,” he said.

Iraq was under Iranian rule from the end of the Hellenistic period in the third century BC up until the Arab conquest in the seventh century AD. But despite this historical justification, the Iranian offer may be greeted with suspicion in Baghdad.

Iran’s greatest contribution would be for border officials to search for antiquities smuggled out of Iraq and ensure their safe return to Iraq.