The public can't get into the Baghdad museum, but Newsweek got a peek





In the renovated Assyrian gallery of Baghdad's Iraq Museum, archeologist Amira Edan al-Dahab was doing what she likes best: explaining the priceless treasures in her care. Stately 3,000-year-old statues of royalty—a couple lost their heads during the museum's looting in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion—have been restored and are presiding over the vast space. Ancient stone reliefs line the walls, with intricate carving depicting the rituals of early civilization. In one panel, an Assyrian and a Babylonian king are posed shaking hands to seal a treaty, not unlike a diplomatic photo op today. But in another relief, victorious soldiers are piling up their enemies' severed heads as a tribute to a monarch in a chariot. Al-Dahab, the museum's temporary director, shakes her head. "You can see the violence all through history," she says. "This one was always ugly to me, but now it's even more so."

With the terror of the insurgency, sectarian attacks and suicide bombings, the devastation of Iraq's museums and archeological sites has become a footnote in the ongoing violence and political crises. In 2006, after a mass kidnapping near the museum, the director, Donny George, sealed much of the complex in a concrete tomb and, like many of Iraq's professionals, left the country. But now, with the U.S. troop surge, Baghdad is calmer. Last summer the concrete was replaced with an iron security door. Inside the museum now, nearly 300 workers and scholars are repairing and renovating the interiors and cataloging and restoring artifacts—not only those damaged in the rampage but also those stolen from archeological sites and turned in to the authorities. Though there are no plans to let the public into the museum—"I cannot risk opening this to anyone," says al-Dahab—NEWSWEEK was invited to survey the ongoing work.


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