02/24/2009, 00.00
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Chaldean intellectual: "The National Museum is the heritage of all Iraq"

Today, the first guided tours for tourists are being conducted at the National Museum, inaugurated yesterday in the presence of Prime Minister al Maliki. The opening represents a further step toward "stabilization," and will favor the "return of foreign tourists." It is hoped that all traditions will be given due consideration, including that of Christianity. According to UNESCO estimates, 7,000 works of art are still missing.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - The opening of the National Museum in Baghdad is another "step forward" for the stabilization of Iraq, and is a message from the government to foreign tourists: "you are welcome." These are the comments of a Chaldean Catholic intellectual to AsiaNews, who expresses his "satisfaction" over the reopening of the museum, which was sacked soon after the American invasion in March of 2003, and had remained closed since then.

Yesterday Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki cut the ribbon at the official reopening. The prime minister said, "We have ended the black wind (of violence) and have started the reconstruction process." This morning, the first tourists entered the museum: for now, only guided tours for groups are allowed; it will take time to reopen the museum to private citizens.

"Art," says the Catholic source, "is a treasure for all of Iraq, which does not simply have oil underground. This should be encouraged, because it will be one of the main attractions for restoring the flow of tourists to the country." He says that he visited the museum "before the fall of Saddam," and that it constitutes a "point of pride" for all Iraq, even if Christian history and tradition were "hidden" from the eyes of Arab citizens. "The section dedicated to the Christian community," says the Chaldean intellectual, "could be visited only by foreign tourists, it was not accessible to Arab Iraqis. The Christian presence is profound, deeply grounded, setting down roots over centuries; although Saddam Hussein protected it, he always concealed it from the eyes of ordinary citizens."

He talks about a "black hole" corresponding "to the period in which Christianity flourished," and expresses his hope that the new course of the National Museum "will take into consideration the presence and value of the Christian community, which played a leading role in the historical-cultural tradition of the country." But the signs coming from the current parliament - still made up of imams and ayatollahs - do not bring hopes of "positive developments over the short term." "The most striking work," the Chaldean intellectual concludes, "are the winged bulls of the Assyrian period, dating back to around the first millennium B.C. (in the photo). They are huge and beautiful, a symbol of protection and defense against spies and the impure. They represent a national patrimony."

The sacking of the National Museum perpetrated by vandals and art traffickers - before the indifferent eyes of the American army - was one of the signs of the failure of the U.S. post-invasion strategy. More than 15,000 works of art were destroyed or stolen by foreign collectors. Efforts by the international community have permitted the recovery of about half of the materials, but UNESCO estimates say that about 7,000 objects are still missing, 50% of which have immense historical and artistic value. But it must be emphasized that the most valuable pieces were stored away in underground hiding places before the United States army entered the country.

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