Iraqi partnerships

Training for Babylon staff at the British Museum

One of the recommendations of John Curtis’ report about Babylon had been that the British Museum should offer training to three Iraqi colleagues from Babylon. As a result, Dr Maryam Umran Musah, Mr Haidar Abdul Wahid Urebi and Mr Raad Hamed Al-Amari came to the Museum from 30 March until27 May 2005, funded by the Department for Culture Media and Sport.

Under the direction of Sarah Collins the Museum organised a variety of courses, visits and talks with particular reference to site assessment and management, in association with the World Monuments Fund, English Heritage and the Institute of Archaeology.

Report on the training for Babylon staff at the British Museum
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International Curatorial Training Programme at the British Museum

The British Museum runs an annual programme providing training for curators principally from the Middle East, China and Africa.

During the five-week course, participants train in all aspects of museum work including security, conservation, scientific research, organizing loans, the collections database, photography, learning and interpretation, and information technology, and make regular visits to the department that is hosting their visit.

July–August 2006

Two Iraqi museum curators, Mehdi Ali Rahim and Ibrahim Hasan Faraj, joined the International Curatorial Training Programme.

Report on curatorial training for Iraq Museum staff
Download report (pdf )

June – July 2007

Dr. Khalid Ismael, Head of Cuneiform Studies at Mosul University joined the Training Programme (he was the first “Linda Noe Laine Fellow”)


John Curtis has attended all UNESCO conferences in his capacity as UK representative on the IC Group (those mentioned, plus Tokyo (31/7/03–2/8/03), Paris (22/6/05–23/6/05) and Berlin (22/11/05) and other major conferences in New York (6/5/03), Bonn (26/5/03) and Brussels (4/12/03–5/12/03).

Combating the illicit trade in Iraqi antiquities

Irving Finkel has been active in attempts to combat the illicit trade in Iraqi antiquities. This has involved working closely with Vernon Rapley of the Art and Antiquities Unit at Scotland Yard and with HM Customs.

The work has included lecturing to policemen from forces around Britain and organising in 2004 workshops in the British Museum for customs officers from around the UK. Some 60 officers attended. They were given a series of introductory talks by British Museum curators, as well as gallery visits and the opportunity to handle and examine classic material of the type that could be expected to surface at ports and airports – such as cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals and Aramaic magic bowls.

Interpol Experts Group

Since 2003 Irving Finkel has been a member of the small Interpol Experts Group (IEG) on Stolen Cultural Property, which has met annually at Interpol Headquarters in Lyon, with responsibility for Iraqi and other material. The group consists of the heads of international police forces, FBI agents, representatives of ICOM and UNESCO and other highly-placed individuals. It serves to pool information and initiatives, focus attention on shared expertise and electronic resources, and issue recommendations for priorities and action that is disseminated throughout the world’s Interpol stations and elsewhere.

At the 17 February 2004 meeting there was a report by the General Secretariat of Interpol, and discussions of national and international activities that are in place. Emphasis was placed on unified and systematic listing of stolen cultural property. Gruesome footage was shown of contemporary site robbing in Iraq, and after a discussion of future strategy certain proposals were recommended for adoption.

In general the work by Interpol concerning the illegal traffic in antiquities can be accessed on


Various curators in the British Museum, particularly John Curtis and Sarah Collins, have delivered gallery talks and lectures on the state of the Iraqi cultural heritage, given television, radio and press interviews, and advised some of the many people who are now researching the whole question of damage to the Iraqi cultural heritage.

A new protocol with the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage

Following a lecture at the British Museum on 16 November 2006 by Dr Donny George on ‘Iraq and Archaeology’, there was a discussion with his successor as Chairman of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, Dr Abbas Ali Abbas al-Hussainy. After this discussion, Neil MacGregor announced that an 8-point protocol had been agreed, outlining the range of assistance that the British Museum would attempt to provide to the Iraqi SBAH.


  • To receive two Iraqi curators every year on the British Museum’s curatorial training programme. 
  • In partnership with the Iraqi Embassy in London, Scotland Yard, and the SBAH, to help with the identification and repatriation of looted Iraqi antiquities.  
  • To help with the conservation of objects in the Iraq Museum, particularly ivories.  
  • To supply copies of British Museum books to the Iraq Museum library and to Al-Qadissiya University.
  • To provide help and advice with the restoration of provincial museums in Iraq, particularly Diwaniya, Nasiriya, Nejev and Mosul.
  • To encourage the establishment of an international museum in Baghdad.
  • To advise on the creation of a “mobile museum” outside Iraq.
  • To collaborate on setting up a Samarra database

Lecture by Dr Abbas al-Hussainy on 7 June 2007

After an introduction by Neil MacGregor, and a short presentation by John Curtis mainly on his recent visit to Ur, Dr Abbas Ali Abbas al-Hussainy, Chairman of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq, was invited to deliver his lecture.

Download Dr Abbas al-Hussainy's lecture