Saddam's former Basra palace becomes museum

Saddam's former Basra palace becomes museum
People and members of a multi-national delegation visit a newly inaugurated antiquities museum in the southern Iraq city of Basra, Iraq September 27, 2016. Picture taken September 27, 2016. REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani
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BASRA — Closed since the 1991 Gulf War, Basra Museum has been given a new lease of life and rehomed in one of the former palaces of Saddam Hussein.

The antiquities museum opened to visitors on Tuesday (September 27) in the large riverside mansion in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, the palace was handed over to the central government in 2008 after the withdrawal of British troops.

The palace was then turned over to the Basra's section State Department of Antiquities and Heritage in 2010, with the aim of being transformed into a museum.

Its director Qahtan Abd Ali Al-Obeidi said that the location was chosen as a symbol of triumph over dictatorship.

"We have intentionally selected one of the government's palaces as evidence of the triumph of civilization and culture over dictatorship and criminality. The museum was formerly located in an old building, a heritage building in the old quarter of Basra. The museum was pillaged in the wake of the 1991 Gulf war and was closed since and today it reopens to visitors," he said.

The museum was relocated from a historical building in the city to the palace with the help of UK charity The Friends of Basra Museum and BP, with work starting in 2012 to restore the building.

Initially, due to shortage of funding, only one hall will be open to the public, displaying over 400 artefacts excavated from archaeological sites in the city, including pottery and coins dating back more than 2,000 years.

"The museum houses a collection of various items including clay jars, glass jars, glass plates, gypsum and plaster reliefs and a large number of coins and different pieces. The number of the artefacts displayed today is around of 440 pieces drawn from the storage rooms of Baghdad's Iraq Museum," Obeidi said.

When completed the museum is expected to house more than 4000 objects drawn from the vaults of the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad, including antiquities and artefacts from the Assyrian, Babylonian and Islamic periods.

Many Iraqi museums and archaeological sites were looted and damaged following the 2003 invasion.

More than a decade later, Iraq's National Museum was opened in 2015 displaying its treasures of Mesopotamian culture.

But about 15,000 pieces were stolen from the museum during the invasion, with 8,000 to 9,000 of those relics having been recovered so far.


REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani