Head of UNESCO Pledges Help to Restore Sacked Iraqi Sites

The head of the United Nations cultural agency (UNESCO), on Monday (6/3), vowed to continue to help repair the damage suffered by Iraq’s historic sites due to decades of war.

During a visit to Baghdad ahead of the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, UNESCO head Audrey Azoulay met with a number of Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. He also visited historic sites in Baghdad and the country’s national museum, which were looted after the US invasion.

Tens of thousands of artifacts were stolen from sites across the country during the following years of conflict.

Speaking to reporters at the national museum, Azoulay said UNESCO is “deeply committed to helping Iraq recover the cultural objects and artefacts that have been looted in recent decades.”

The museum now houses important Iraqi artifacts that have been returned: a small clay tablet that is 3,500 years old and contains part of the Story of Gilgamesh. The tablet was looted from an Iraqi museum 30 years ago and returned from the US two years ago. The tablets were among 17,000 artifacts looted and returned to Iraq from the US.

Iraq is home to six UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites, among them the ancient city of Babylon, site of several ancient kingdoms under rulers such as Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar.

As security in Iraq has stabilized in recent years, the country has experienced a resurgence in archaeological excavations, and international funds are pouring in to restore damaged heritage sites such as the al-Nouri Mosque in Mosul.

“We all know what Iraq has gone through over the last few decades,” Azoulay told reporters. “And we also know what this world’s civilization owes to Iraq.” Azoulay during his visit to Iraq will visit Mosul, as well as the city of Erbil in the north, where the city’s stronghold is a UNESCO heritage site. [my/rs]

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