Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The for-show, one-day opening

"As for when the rest of Iraq will be able to see the museum, that's unclear. Iraqi guards Monday afternoon told journalists it would be a couple of months," notes the Los Angeles Times' Babylon & Beyond (credited that way here and in the snapshot yesterday because no writer is named in the blog post). That's really the heart of the story. Yesterday, you had a limited, for-show opening. Sudarsan Raghavan and K.I. Ibrahim's "Six Years After Its Pillage, Iraqi Museum to Reopen" (Washington Post) reports puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki insists the 'opening' indicates an "embrace of democracy" -- embrace by who and of what by whom? Democracy for invited guests only? The reporters provice this background:

Founded in 1923, the museum in central Baghdad once contained important pieces from the Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian periods, as well as from the Stone Age. After the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government, thieves carried away thousands of important artifacts; U.S. troops did nothing to stop the looting, drawing intense criticism from Iraqis as well as the international community.
Since then, a massive effort has been underway by Iraqi ministries and foreign governments to restore the stolen pieces, which Iraq estimated at as many as 15,000. According to the United Nations' cultural arm, UNESCO, as many as 7,000 pieces are still missing, including 50 items of historical importance.

Steven Lee Myers' "Far From Whole, Iraq Museum That Was Looted Reopens" covers the topic for the New York Times and Myers has previously covered the topic for the paper. His best moment may be his judgment call that "2,700-year-old stone reliefs from the palace of the Assyrian king Sargon II at Khorsabad . . . eerily recalls the blast walls that protect buildings and divide streets in today’s Baghdad." From his article:

When Iraqis may actually see for themselves a collection of relics and art that spans millenniums was a question even the museum’s deputy director, Muhsin Hassan Ali, dared not answer, even when pressed.
The museum's directors have twice before ostentatiously opened the doors. In July 2003, the American civilian administrator in Iraq at the time, L. Paul Bremer III, toured some displays a few months after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld dismissed the looting by saying, "Stuff happens." In December 2007, the museum's director allowed a group of journalists and politicians inside for a few hours.

PBS' Online NewsHour offers a text report which includes this, "The Culture Ministry has issued an amnesty for all citizens who return looted archaeological artifacts." (Tonight President Barack Obama delivers an address. PBS will broadcast and The NewsHour staff will offer analysis on most PBS stations. The live coverage begins at 9:00 pm EST.) Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal's Baghdad Life) appears to be the only reporter notices that artificats were broken during the for-show proceedings:

The museum includes halls displaying items delivered or returned by Iraqi citizens or regained from other nations. There is also an Assyrian room, a hall of Manuscripts showing ancient books of the Quran and an Islamic Hall. Magnificent wall-size stone carvings and statues, ancient coins and glazed pottery were among the antiquities on display. (See a photo gallery.)
However, a room that had displayed ancient gold jewelry only showed pictures of the treasures. The jewelry had been on display during the early part of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which governed Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003. But the museum feared that the gold jewelry may tempt thieves so the pieces are now kept in a vault.
The dozens of media representatives that attended the event were so eager to cover the museum opening that there were a few tussles and shouting matches with Iraqi security forces, resulting in two broken stone vases for plants that stood outside the museum entrance. A soldier carrying the broken pieces of one of the vases noted that fortunately, it was just an ordinary stone pot and not an ancient treasure.

Catherine Philp and Wail Al-obaidi (Times of London) note, "The museum had some of the oldest exhibitions anywhere in the world, spanning the Stone Age, Biblical times and the Islamic Golden Age. Modern-day Iraq encompasses Ancient Mesopotamia, and its southern marshlands are believed to have been the site of the Garden of Eden."

The Kurdistan Regional Government notes their inter-faith conference:

Kurdistan's religious leaders discuss inter-faith peace and tolerance

Erbil, Kurdistan – Iraq (KRG.org) – Religious leaders of many faiths gathered earlier this week at the Martyr Saad Convention Centre in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, to discuss the importance of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani addressed the clerics. “You are a strong channel for spreading the culture of brotherhood, forgiveness, harmony and acceptance.”

He added, “We can firmly preserve our historical and cultural heritage while we embrace concepts of modern society and freedoms. At the same time, we can respect our religious commitment and respect the religious commitments of those who worship differently."

The three-day conference was designed to promote cultural, religious and ethnic tolerance in practice and in sermons offered throughout the Kurdistan Region. Several religious leaders expressed their appreciation for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s support for their work and for ensuring that all religious viewpoints are respected.

Hundreds of clerics and religious scholars from across the Region attended the three-day event, including representatives of Muslim, Christian, Yezidi, Sabia Mandaean and Shabak communities.

Sheikh Mohammad Ahmad Saeed Shakaly, the Minister for Endowment and Religious Affairs, discussed the ministry’s efforts to promote tolerance between all faiths. He said, “We need to take practical action to implement a policy of coexistence and promulgate a spirit of tolerance and peace among religions. With this goal in mind, the ministry, the KRG as a whole, and clerics are working together closely.”

The Kurdistan Region has been able to avoid the religious and sectarian violence that has affected other areas in Iraq.

See also Prime Minister Barzani's speech at the conference

We noted the speech yesterday. We'll note the German Consulate in the next entry. Meanwhile Iraq's Foreign Ministry announces:

23 February, 2009

Foreign Minister Meets Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Conference

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari met on 23/2/2009, at the Ministry's headquarters Mr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Conference and the delegation accompanying him. Talks were held between the two parties with the Iraqi side represented by Foreign Minister Hoshyar zebari , Minister of Science and Technology ,Chairmen of the Sunni and Shiite Dewan , head of the pilgrimage committee and Undersecretaries of the Foreign Ministry and from the Organization of the Islamic Conference Mr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and his accompanying delegation to discuss the overall situation on the Iraqi arena and ways of activating the role of the Organization in Iraq and Iraq's role in the revitalization of the organization.

The Minister and his guest held a joint press conference and reviewed the positive developments achieved in the Iraqi arena and the security and political successes, stressing the importance of the visit to strengthen ties between Iraq and the organization, adding that Iraq is looking forward to playing an active role in the Islamic world because it is part of it, explaining the willingness of the Government of National Unity to provide all support for the Organization and the success of its work in Iraq.

On his part, Mr. Ihsanoglu spoke on the reasons for his visit to Iraq and the opening of the Office of the Organization, of which the most important, to expand relations with Iraq and to support and actively participate in the process of reconstruction and development.

Minister Zebari accompanied his guest and the accompanying delegation to inaugurate the permanent mission of the Organization of Islamic Conference.

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the los angeles times
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steven lee myers

gina chon