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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Restoring Iraq's cultural heritage

By Keily Oakes
BBC News Online

Donny George told Tessa Jowell what help Iraq needs

A "cultural alliance" of officials and experts met at London's British Museum to discuss ways to preserve and reconstruct what is left of Iraqi's antiquities.

Dr Donny George, director of Baghdad's National Museum of Iraq, left his museum for the first time since the war to visit London to spell out the destruction it has suffered.

Although he is angry that looters were allowed to damage Iraq's heritage he is thankful the world has recognised the impact of the loss of priceless artefacts, some of which date back thousands of years.

And although talk of the future was positive, all the parties that have pledged to help in the restoration recognise the long road ahead to secure Iraq's cultural heritage.

Unesco, along with museums around the world, are now plotting the best way forward from what has been widely called a cultural "disaster".

Dr George has outlined one of the priorities should be to stop the continued "bleeding" of antiquities from Iraq.

Salvage operation

He believes the only way to stop any more crossing the border out of Iraq, possibly to be lost for ever, is for the coalition forces to make rigorous checks on anyone leaving the country.

The cultural alliance recognises that because of the enormous devastation caused to the Iraq National Museum it has been impossible for staff to discover the extent of the losses.

Unesco is to send a team of eight experts to Iraq to make an assessment of the situation and devise a plan for the next stage in the salvage operation.

An official at the National Museum of Antiquities, armed with an iron bar in one hand, stands on guard
Looters left a scene of devastation at the National Museum

It is also calling on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution which would place an immediate embargo on all Iraqi cultural goods.

This would also include the return of goods to Iraq that may have already entered the market.

The UN organisation will then compile a database with all the archives, lists and inventories relating to Iraqi heritage.

Switzerland has already promised a substantial amount of money to fund the survey.

This will then be passed to customs, art dealers, trade organisations and Interpol to ensure the illicit trade of Iraqi artefacts is made as difficult as possible.

The director of the British Museum, Neil McGregor, said the next step would be to verify what antiquities have been damaged and what can be done to repair pieces.


This would involve the sourcing of suitable materials and the training of conservation teams, which could take a considerable amount of time.

Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, also pledged that the UK Government would do all it could to help restore Iraqi heritage.

She has pledged to hurry through a Private Members Bill to close a loophole that contends that if the original owner of a piece of art cannot be traced then nobody can be prosecuted over it.

She also offered the assistance from members of her department to find a way of protecting Iraq's cultural legacy.

But like others she warned that the process of restoration could not be rushed and that everything "must be done with meticulous care."

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