Basra Museum project briefing

The British Army and the British Museum have been in discussion with Iraqi colleagues about the possible creation of a new museum in Basra. The project is one of the cultural initiatives taken forward by the British Army IIIrd Division under the command of Major-General Barney White-Spunner during their deployment in Iraq from February – August 2008.

The existing Basra Museum is in a traditional house in the old part of Basra. It was looted during the First Gulf War in 1991, and subsequently the remaining antiquities were removed to Baghdad. The house is small and in poor condition, and is not considered to be suitable for use as a modern museum. With Iraqi help and advice, a former palace of Saddam Hussein has been identified as a suitable building for a new museum. It is known as the ‘Lakeside Palace’, and is one of  several palaces or pavilions built on the outskirts of Basra for Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. The palace is a medium-sized building in an attractive location backing on to the Shatt al-Arab waterway. It would provide at least four good-sized exhibition galleries, and would contain modern and ethnographic material from the Basra area as well as antiquities which would in due course be returned from Baghdad.

A feasibility study of the building was undertaken by Major Rupert Burridge, of the Royal Engineers 18-19 April 2008, and plans were unveiled at a meeting in the British Museum on 29 April in the presence of four colleagues from Iraq, including Dr Mufid al-Jazairi, Chairman of the Cultural Committee in the Iraqi Parliament.

It is hoped that this new museum would constitute an excellent new cultural resource not just for Basra but for the whole of Southern Iraq. Five officials from the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage attended a meeting at the palace on Tuesday 3 June with British Army and British Museum teams led by Major Hugo Clarke and Dr John Curtis respectively and there was general agreement that the project should go ahead. It is still awaiting formal approval, however, from Prime Minister Mr Nouri al-Maliki. Once this is obtained it is expected that Iraq officials will take the project forward with support from the British army and the British Museum.

The Basra Museum Project is part of a wider initiative undertaken by the British army and the British Museum to investigate ways to protect cultural heritage in Iraq. The first part of the project was a series of 8 site visits in southern Iraq to assess the level of damage and make recommendations for securing the sites in the future. It is hoped more site visits can be arranged in 2009.

More information on the visits and the British Museum’s work in Iraq can be found at www.britishmuseum.org/iraq

For further information please contact Hannah Boulton on +44 (0)20 7323 8522 or hboulton@britishmuseum.org.