Iraqi Museums and Conflict

The National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq (c) UNESCO

Iraqi cultural heritage suffered greatly during the Gulf War of 1991. Archaeological museums throughout the country were closed, including the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad which only reopened in April 2000.

With the armed conflict in March 2003, the National Museum suffered significant damage, leading to the loss of many of its objects through looting. Although the total number of looted items is debated, the Museum management staff has estimated that about 15,000 items, including 5,000 valuable cylinder seals, were stolen.

Since 2003, efforts have been made by the authorities and international assistance to renovate the museum and to reinstate stolen objects.

According to the National Museum of Iraq, 4,300 objects (28.6%) out of the 15,000 looted from the Museum have been returned.

The Mosul Museum was also looted in 2003, but fortunately a large number of its objects were sent for safekeeping in Baghdad a few days prior to the looting. The museum remained closed and was undergoing renovation work when it was occupied by extremists in June 2014.

On 26 February 2015, a video was posted online showing the militants destroying several artefacts that were displayed in the galleries of the Mosul Museum. They justified their actions by claiming that such artefacts represent idols, which is against their religious ideology. 

In response to this attack, the Iraqi government officially reopened the National Museum in Baghdad on 28 February 2015.

The Iraqi Government also reopened the Nassiriya Museum on 26 March 2015, and is currently working on the reopening of other museums in the country.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, archaeological museums including the museums in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Duhok, are currently open to the public.

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