UNESCO is assisting with the preservation and rehabilitation of major Iraqi cultural sites, providing technical assistance to Iraqi counterparts and, in collaboration with international partners, leading the fight against the illicit traffic of Iraqi artifacts.
The consequences of war in Iraq have been enormous – families have been destroyed, societies have been maimed, memories have been erased, identities and cultures have been disfigured.
As a result of the most recent war and ensuing chaos, the preservation of eight thousand years of human history in Mesopotamia now hangs in the balance. Arsonists burnt libraries and archives, looters plundered historic buildings and cultural institutions and traffickers removed cultural objects from museums and archaeological sites. It is truly difficult to understate the tragedy of cultural heritage in Iraq.
Culture runs through the veins of a society – it shapes identities and ways of life through the patterns of human activity and symbolic structures that generate meaning. In times of war, these identities are in permanent danger when opportunities are not seized, when culture is disregarded and not used as a positive force for development. The expanding humanitarian emergency in Iraq demands that issues such as food, infrastructure, and health care be addressed immediately. Nevertheless, safeguarding cultural heritage and rehabilitating cultural institutions are essential elements for national reconciliation and socio-economic development.
UNESCO’s interventions in the field of culture concentrate on safeguarding cultural heritage and rehabilitating cultural institutions. Attention was first paid to emergency assistance to the protection of archaeological sites and the rehabilitation of cultural institutions such as the National Museum and the National Library and Archives. In addition to rehabilitation and safeguarding projects, UNESCO works with the Iraqi government to provide technical expertise and build capacities of relevant cultural ministries for heritage conservation and management. As an intergovernmental organization, UNESCO also facilitates international coordination for the application of normative tools that protect cultural heritage.