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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 01:13 GMT 02:13 UK
British Museum welcomes Iraq library project
British Museum
The Museum will have to get around UN sanctions
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Lawrence Pollard
BBC arts correspondent

The British Museum in London has agreed to help the Government of Iraq with a major cultural project.

Iraqi archaeologists and academics are planning to recreate the earliest library of the ancient world and want to use material held in London.

Despite the United Nations sanctions on Iraq, the museum says it will co-operate if permission is forthcoming from the UN.

Assyrian relief of King Ashurbanipal
King Ashurbanipal: one of the first great librarians

Iraq is hoping to recreate the famous library of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal, who in the 7th century BC ruled an empire stretching from Egypt to Persia.

His capital and the library were at Nineveh, the modern city of Mosul in northern Iraq.

Ashurbanipal's library was the first indexed and catalogued collection in history, and consisted of clay tablets written in what's called cuneiform script.

Some 25,000 fragments are held in London and Iraqi archaeologists have asked for replica casts to be made of the most important, as the centrepiece of the new library.

Sanctions catch

The British Museum has agreed in principle, saying it sees the matter as a purely cultural exchange but two major obstacles remain.

Leaning minaret in Mosul
Modern-day Mosul, Nineveh's successor, is still a fascinating city
One is that the museum would have to be paid for making the copies but no monetary exchange is allowed with the Iraqi Government under the terms of UN sanctions.

Secondly, the export of any replica tablets would have to be exempted from the same sanctions.

Iraqi archaeologists hope that the UN's cultural body, Unesco, will help fund the library project which has the personal seal of approval of Saddam Hussein.

Unesco has yet to comment on any Iraqi request.

See also:

20 Mar 01 | Middle East
Iraq honours the word
05 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iraq looks to its rich history
29 Apr 00 | Middle East
Baghdad treasure trove reopens to public
18 Jan 02 | Europe
Nations squabble over antiquities
22 Jun 98 | Middle East
Iraq acts to protect ancient treasures
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