Iraqi Art Emerges From Rubble of War

Tamer El-Ghobashyu, The Wall Street Journal
March 1, 2014

The three friends, all college students majoring in pharmaceuticals, walked slowly through the airy galleries of Iraq’s National Museum, pausing to study the details of several enormous marble sculptures.

“I can’t believe this is my first time seeing this,” said Naz Ibrahim, 23 years old. “This is wonderful.”

Iraq’s National Museum, which became a symbol of national mourning when it was ransacked by mobs during the 2003 American-led invasion of Baghdad, reopened to the public for the first time Sunday, the latest in a string of both mundane and significant attempts by Iraqis to return to normalcy.

Although the museum, which had some 15,000 pieces looted after the arrival of American troops, was scheduled to be reopened in the coming weeks, recent cultural destruction by the militant group Islamic State gave Iraq’s government new urgency.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the museum was opened ahead of schedule to counter the pain wrought by videos released on Thursday by Islamic State that purported to show militants taking sledgehammers to Assyrian artifacts in the Mosul Museum.

The footage from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and one which the militant group has controlled since June, sent shockwaves within Iraq and around the world. Art experts later said it appeared many of the destroyed pieces were likely replicas.

Still, the trauma was palpable among a trickle of visitors who arrived at the Baghdad landmark on Sunday, paying 1,500 dinars ($1.25) to enter and stroll through the freshly renovated halls.

“I had to come after what I saw from Mosul,” said Sawsan Munem, 23, who accompanied Ms. Ibrahim and another friend. “So many things go missing or are destroyed by war. I don’t want to risk never seeing them for myself.”

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