National Museum of Iraq
The National Museum of Iraq (Arabic: المتحف العراقي) is a museum located in Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

, Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

. It contains precious relics from Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

n civilization.


It was established by the British traveller and author Gertrude Bell
Gertrude Bell
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, CBE was an English writer, traveller, political officer, administrator, and archaeologist who explored, mapped, and became highly influential to British imperial policy-making due to her extensive travels in Greater Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Arabia. Along...

 and opened shortly before her death in 1926. It was originally known as the Baghdad Archaeological Museum.


Because of the archaeological riches of Mesopotamia, its collections are amongst the most important in the world; and it has a fine record of scholarship and display. The British connection with the museum (and with Iraq) means that exhibits have always been displayed bilingually (English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 and Arabic). It contains important artifacts from the over 5,000 year long history of Mesopotamia in 28 galleries and vaults.

(Content Deleted)

Damage and losses during 2003 war

In the months preceding the 2003 Iraq war, starting in December and January, various antiquities
Antiquities, nearly always used in the plural in this sense, is a term for objects from Antiquity, especially the civilizations of the Mediterranean: the Classical antiquity of Greece and Rome, Ancient Egypt and the other Ancient Near Eastern cultures...

 experts, including representatives from the American Council for Cultural Policy
American Council for Cultural Policy
American Council for Cultural Policy was formed by a group of politically influential antiquities dealers, collectors and lawyers in the United States, with its headquarters in New York and representatives in Washington D.C....

 asked The Pentagon
The Pentagon
The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, Virginia. As a symbol of the U.S. military, "the Pentagon" is often used metonymically to refer to the Department of Defense rather than the building itself.Designed by the American architect...

 and the UK government to ensure the museum's safety from both combat and looting. Although promises were not made, U.S. forces did avoid bombing the site.

On April 8, 2003 the last of the museum staff left the museum. Iraqi forces engaged U.S. forces from within the museum, as well as the nearby Special Republican Guard compound. Lt. Col. Eric Schwartz of the U.S. third Infantry Division stated that he was unable to enter the compound and secure it since they attempted to avoid returning fire at the building. Sniper positions, discarded ammunition, and 15 Iraqi Army uniforms were later discovered in the building. Iraqi forces had built a fortified wall along the western side of the compound, allowing concealed movement between the front and rear of the museum.

Thefts took place between April 10 and 12, when some staff returned to the building and fended off further attempts by looters to enter the museum until U.S. forces arrived on April 16. A special team headed by Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos
Matthew Bogdanos
*Thieves of Baghdad is his first-hand account of his journey to recover Iraq’s lost treasures. His royalties from the sale of the book go to the Iraq Museum.-Awards:...

 initiated an investigation on April 21. His investigation indicated that despite claims to the contrary, no U.S. forces had looted the building, and that there were three separate thefts by three distinct groups over the four days. While the staff instituted a storage plan to prevent theft and damage (also used during the Iran–Iraq War and the first Gulf War
Gulf War
The Persian Gulf War , commonly referred to as simply the Gulf War, was a war waged by a U.N.-authorized coalition force from 34 nations led by the United States, against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait.The war is also known under other names, such as the First Gulf...

), many larger statue
A statue is a sculpture in the round representing a person or persons, an animal, an idea or an event, normally full-length, as opposed to a bust, and at least close to life-size, or larger...

s, stele
A stele , also stela , is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief , or painted onto the slab...

s, and frieze
thumb|267px|Frieze of the [[Tower of the Winds]], AthensIn architecture the frieze is the wide central section part of an entablature and may be plain in the Ionic or Doric order, or decorated with bas-reliefs. Even when neither columns nor pilasters are expressed, on an astylar wall it lies upon...

s had been left in the public galleries, protected with foam and surrounded by sandbag
A sandbag is a sack made of hessian/burlap, polypropylene or other materials that is filled with sand or soil and used for such purposes as flood control, military fortification, shielding glass windows in war zones and ballast....

s. Forty pieces were stolen from these galleries, mostly the more valuable. Of these 13 had been recovered as of January 2005, including the three most valuable — the Sacred Vase of Warka
Warka Vase
The Warka Vase or the Uruk Vase is a carved alabaster stone vessel found in the temple complex of the Sumerian goddess Inanna in the ruins of the ancient city of Uruk, located in the modern Al Muthanna Governorate, in southern Iraq. Like the Narmer Palette from Egypt, it is one of the earliest...

 (though broken in fourteen pieces,which was the original state it was found in when first excavated), the Mask of Warka, and the Bassetki statue
Bassetki statue
The Bassetki statue is a monument from the Akkadian period in Mesopotamia that was found in the 1960s near the town of Bassetki in Duhok Governorate, northern Iraq. The statue was cast from pure copper, weighs and shows a seated, nude human figure on a round pedestal. Only the lower part of the...


The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the recovery of the headless statue of King Entemena of Lagash on July 25, 2006. The statue was returned to the Iraq government.

According to museum officials the looters concentrated on the heart of the exhibition: "the Warka Vase
Warka Vase
The Warka Vase or the Uruk Vase is a carved alabaster stone vessel found in the temple complex of the Sumerian goddess Inanna in the ruins of the ancient city of Uruk, located in the modern Al Muthanna Governorate, in southern Iraq. Like the Narmer Palette from Egypt, it is one of the earliest...

, a Sumerian alabaster piece more than 5,000 years old; a bronze Uruk statue from the Acadian period, also 5,000 years old, which weighs 660 pounds; and the headless statue of Entemena. The Harp of Ur was torn apart by looters who removed its gold inlay." Among the stolen artifacts is the Bassetki statue
Bassetki statue
The Bassetki statue is a monument from the Akkadian period in Mesopotamia that was found in the 1960s near the town of Bassetki in Duhok Governorate, northern Iraq. The statue was cast from pure copper, weighs and shows a seated, nude human figure on a round pedestal. Only the lower part of the...

 made out of bronze, a life-size statue of a young man, originally found in the village Basitke in the northern part of Iraq, an Acadian piece that goes back to 2300 B.C. and the stone statue of King Schalmanezer, from the eighth century B.C.

In addition, the museum's aboveground storage rooms were looted; the exterior steel doors showed no signs of forced entry. Approximately 3,100 excavation site pieces (jars, vessels, pottery shards, etc.) were stolen, of which over 3,000 have been recovered. The thefts did not appear to be discriminating; for example, an entire shelf of fakes was stolen, while an adjacent shelf of much greater value was undisturbed.

The third occurrence of theft was in the underground storage rooms, where evidence pointed to an inside job. The thieves attempted to steal the most easily transportable objects, which had been intentionally stored in the most remote location possible. Of the four rooms, the only portion disturbed was a single corner in the furthest room, where cabinets contained 100 small boxes containing cylinder seal
Cylinder seal
A cylinder seal is a cylinder engraved with a 'picture story', used in ancient times to roll an impression onto a two-dimensional surface, generally wet clay. Cylinder seals were invented around 3500 BC in the Near East, at the contemporary site of Susa in south-western Iran and at the early site...

s, beads, and jewelry. Evidence indicated that the thieves possessed keys to the cabinets but dropped them in the dark. Instead, they stole 10,000 small objects that were lying in plastic boxes on the floor. Of them, nearly 2,500 have been recovered.

One of the most valuable artifacts looted was a headless stone statue of the Sumerian king Entemena
Entemena was a son of En-anna-tum I, and he reestablished Lagash as a power in Sumer. He defeated Illi of Umma, with the aid of Lugal-kinishe-dudu of Uruk, successor to Enshakushanna, who is in the king list.-Artifacts:...

 of Lagash
Lagash is located northwest of the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and east of Uruk, about east of the modern town of Ash Shatrah. Lagash was one of the oldest cities of the Ancient Near East...

. The Entemena statue, "estimated to be 4,400 years old, is the first significant artifact returned from the United States and by far the most important piece found outside Iraq. American officials declined to discuss how they recovered the statue." The statue of the king, located in the center of the museum's second-floor Sumerian Hall, weighs hundreds of pounds, making it the heaviest piece stolen from the museum - the looters "probably rolled or slid it down marble stairs to remove it, smashing the steps and damaging other artifacts." It was recovered in the United States with the help of Hicham Aboutaam, an art dealer in New York.

International reaction to the looting

The U.S. government was criticised for doing nothing to protect the museum after occupying Baghdad. Dr. Irving Finkel of the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 said the looting was "entirely predictable and could easily have been stopped." Martin E. Sullivan, chairman of the U.S. President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property, and U.S. State Department cultural advisors Gary Vikan and Richard S. Lanier resigned in protest.

The extent of the looting of Iraq's National Museum has been disputed. Based on a miscommunication by the first crews on the scene, and the empty display cases in the main galleries that in most cases had held objects which museum curators had removed before the invasion, news organizations for weeks reported that as much as 100 percent of the museum's 170,000 catalogued lots (501,000 pieces) had been looted, when the true figure was around 15,000 items, including 5,000 extremely valuable cylinder seals.
On April 12, 2003, The Associated Press reported: “The famed Iraq National Museum, home of extraordinary Babylonian, Sumer
Sumer was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age....

ian and Assyria
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

n collections and rare Islamic texts, sat empty Saturday - except for shattered glass display cases and cracked pottery bowls that littered the floor.”

On April 14, National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel announced on All Things Considered: “As it turned out, American troops were but a few hundred yards away as the country’s heritage was stripped bare.”

Reacting to the incorrect initial reports that the museum was a total loss, French President Jacques Chirac
Jacques Chirac
Jacques René Chirac is a French politician who served as President of France from 1995 to 2007. He previously served as Prime Minister of France from 1974 to 1976 and from 1986 to 1988 , and as Mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.After completing his studies of the DEA's degree at the...

 on April 16, 2003, declared the incident "a crime against humanity."

Later in 2003, The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph is a daily morning broadsheet newspaper distributed throughout the United Kingdom and internationally. The newspaper was founded by Arthur B...

(of London) reported:
"Officials at the National Museum of Iraq have blamed shoddy reporting amid the "fog of war" for creating the impression that the majority of the institution's 170,000 items were looted in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad.

A carefully prepared storage plan, used in the Iran–Iraq War and the first Persian Gulf War, ensured that tens of thousands of pieces were saved, they said. They now believe that the number of items taken was in the low thousands, and possibly hundreds." That report was clearly itself radically understating the actual number of items looted, which is now agreed to have been around 15,000.

When asked why the U.S. military did not try to guard the museum in the days after the invasion succeeded, Gen. Richard Myers
Richard Myers
Richard Bowman Myers is a retired four-star general in the United States Air Force and served as the 15th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As Chairman, Myers was the United States military's highest ranking uniformed officer....

, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "If you remember, when some of that looting was going on, people were being killed, people were being wounded.... It's as much as anything else a matter of priorities." Civil Affairs expert William Sumner, who was tasked with handling arts, monuments, and archives, explained that the postwar Civil Affairs planners "didn't foresee the marines as going out and assigning marine units as security. . . . The issue of archaeological sites was considered a targeting problem," to be dealt with by those flying bombing missions. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Donald Rumsfeld
Donald Henry Rumsfeld is an American politician and businessman. Rumsfeld served as the 13th Secretary of Defense from 1975 to 1977 under President Gerald Ford, and as the 21st Secretary of Defense from 2001 to 2006 under President George W. Bush. He is both the youngest and the oldest person to...

, who described the period of looting in general as "untidiness", said of the museum's looting, "To try to pass off the fact of that unfortunate activity to a deficit in the war plan strikes me as a stretch." Secretary of State Colin Powell
Colin Powell
Colin Luther Powell is an American statesman and a retired four-star general in the United States Army. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. He was the first African American to serve in that position. During his military...

 said, "The United States understands its obligations and will be taking a leading role with respect to antiquities in general but this museum in particular."

Two weeks after the museum thefts, when major news outlets still were reporting most of the museum's artifacts were gone, Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, General Director Research Studies for the Board of Antiquities in Iraq, said of the looting, "It's the crime of the century, because it affects the heritage of all mankind". After the U.S. Marines
United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing power projection from the sea, using the mobility of the United States Navy to deliver combined-arms task forces rapidly. It is one of seven uniformed services of the United States...

 set up headquarters in Baghdad's Palestine Hotel
Palestine Hotel
The Palestine Hotel , often referred to simply as The Palestine, is an 18-story hotel in Baghdad, Iraq located on Firdos Square, across from the Sheraton Ishtar. It has long been favored by journalists and media personnel...

, George said he went there to plead for troops to protect the remainder of the Museum collection, but no guards were sent for another three days. Whether or not this was due to continued fighting is unclear.

Attempts to recover lost items

A few days later, agents of the FBI were sent to Iraq to search for stolen Museum property. UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 organized an emergency meeting of antiquities experts on April 17, 2003 in Paris to deal with the aftermath of the looting and its effects on the global art and antiquities market.

On April 18, 2003, the Baghdad Museum Project was formed in the United States with a proposal to assure the National Museum of Iraq every possibility of the eventual safe return of its collection, even if that is to take hundreds of years. Rather than focus only on law enforcement and the current antiquities market, the group set its mission as being to (1) establish a comprehensive online catalog of all cultural artifacts in the museum's collection, (2) create a virtual Baghdad Museum that is accessible to the general public over the Internet, (3) build a 3D collaborative workspace within the virtual Baghdad Museum for design and fundraising purposes, and (4) establish a resource center within the virtual Baghdad Museum for community cultural development. Various ancient items believed looted from the museum have surfaced in Jordan
Jordan , officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan , Al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashemiyya) is a kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing...

, Lebanon, the United States, Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

, and Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, and on eBay
eBay Inc. is an American internet consumer-to-consumer corporation that manages, an online auction and shopping website in which people and businesses buy and sell a broad variety of goods and services worldwide...


On May 7, 2003, U.S. officials announced that nearly 40,000 manuscript
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

s and 700 artifact
Artifact (archaeology)
An artifact or artefact is "something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest"...

s belonging to the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad were recovered by U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 Customs agents working with museum experts in Iraq. Some looters had returned items after promises of rewards and amnesty, and many items previously reported missing had actually been hidden in secret storage vaults at the museum prior to the outbreak of war. On June 7, 2003, U.S. authorities announced that world famous treasures of Nimrud
Nimrud is an ancient Assyrian city located south of Nineveh on the river Tigris in modern Ninawa Governorate Iraq. In ancient times the city was called Kalḫu. The Arabs called the city Nimrud after the Biblical Nimrod, a legendary hunting hero .The city covered an area of around . Ruins of the city...

 were recovered from a secret vault in the Iraqi Central Bank. The artifacts included necklaces, plates, gold earrings, finger and toe rings, bowls and flasks. Officials said that of the 170,000 items initially believed missing, just 3,000 remained unaccounted for. And, of those, 47 were main exhibition artifacts. In November, 2003 Coalition officials reported a few dozen of the most important items remained missing from the museum's public galleries, along with another 10,000 other items—most of them tiny and some of them fragments. The ultimate figure is now estimated at around 15,000 and the tiny items include some of the most valuable artifacts on the antiquities markets.

The museum has been protected since its looting, but archaeological sites in Iraq were left almost entirely unprotected by coalition forces, and there has been massive looting, especially in the period just before the invasion (when Saddam Hussein pulled forces away from site protection) and between summer 2003 and the end of 2007. Estimates are that 400-600,000 artifacts have been plundered. Iraqi sculptor Mohammed Ghani Hikmat
Mohammed Ghani Hikmat
Mohammad Ghani Hikmat, was an Iraqi sculptor and artist credited with creating some of Baghdad's highest profile sculptures and monuments. His best known works include the Victory Arch and two statues of Queen Scheherazade and King Shahryar, located on Aby Nuwas Street...

 spearheaded efforts by the Iraqi artist community to recover artworks looted from the museum. Approximately 150 of Hikmat's pieces were stolen from the museum alone. Hikmat's group has recovered approximately 100 of the museum's works, as of September 2011.

United States Marine Matthew Bogdanos has led the search for these stolen artifacts since 2003.

Recent work

At various Iraq reconstruction conferences, the Baghdad Museum Project gave presentations to the reconstruction community advocating preservation of Iraq's cultural heritage in rebuilding projects. On August 27, 2006, Iraq's museum director Dr. Donny George Youkhanna fled the country to Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, claiming "pressure to follow a radical Islamic agenda in the preservation of Iraqi antiquities made his position impossible.". Donny George held the position of visiting professor in the anthropology department of the Stony Brook State University of New York until his death in March 2011.

On June 9, 2009, the treasures of the National Museum went online for the first time as Italy inaugurated the Virtual Museum of Iraq. On November 24, 2009, Google announced that it would create a virtual copy of the museum’s collections at its own expense, and make images of four millennia of archaeological treasures available online, free, by early 2010. It is unclear the extent by which Google's effort overlaps with Italy's previous initiative. Google's Street View
Google Street View
Google Street View is a technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth that provides panoramic views from various positions along many streets in the world...

 service was used to image much of the museum's exhibit areas, and these images are currently (November 2011) online.


The museum has opened its doors on only a dozen times since September 1980 during the Iran-Iraq War. In fact, most of the Iraqi nationals called the Museum "Saddam's gift shop". Since the invasion, it has opened only rarely, opened on July 3, 2003 for several hours for a visit by journalists and Coalition Provisional Authority head J. Paul Bremer, as a signal that things were returning to normal. In December 2008, the museum was opened for a photo opportunity for Ahmad Chalabi, who returned a number of artifacts supposedly handed in to him by Iraqis. The latest opening occurred on February 23, 2009, at the behest of Iraqi prime minister Maliki, to demonstrate that things were returning to normal. Many archaeological officials protested against this opening, arguing that conditions were not yet safe enough to put the museum at risk; the museum's director was fired for airing her objections. In a ceremony to mark the occasion, Qahtan Abbas, Iraq's tourism and antiquities minister, said that only 6,000 of the 15,000 items looted in 2003 had been returned. In a book published in 2009, it was estimated that 600,000 archaeological pieces were looted by Kurdish and Shia militias allied with the United States since 2003. In September 2011 Iraqi officials announced the renovated museum will permanently reopen in November, protected by new climate control and security systems. The United States and Italian governments have both contributed to the renovation effort.


On September 7th 2010, the Associated Press reported that 540 looted treasures were returned to Iraq.

638 stolen artifacts were returned to the Iraqi National Museum after they were located in the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

See also

  • Art of Mesopotamia
    Art of Mesopotamia
    Art of Mesopotamia has survived in the archaeological record from early hunter-gatherer societies on to the Bronze Age cultures of the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian empires. These empires were later replaced in the Iron Age by the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian empires...

  • Lyres of Ur
    Lyres of Ur
    The Lyres of Ur or Harps of Ur are considered to be the worlds oldest surviving stringed instruments. In 1929, archaeologists discovered pieces of three lyres and one harp in Ur, located in what was Ancient Mesopotamia and is contemporary Iraq...

  • Taha Baqir
    Taha Baqir
    Taha Baqir was an Iraqi archaeologist, author, cuneiformist, linguist, historian, and former curator of the National Museum of Iraq.Baqir is considered one of Iraq's most eminent archaeologists...

  • Damage to Baghdad during the 2003 Iraq War

External links

News and editorials

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