ISIS, the Sunni militant group wreaking violent havoc in Syria and Iraq, is fast extending its reach, claiming Iraqi cities as far southward as Ramadi. That dark shadow didn’t stop Iraqis in nearby Baghdad, 80 miles to the southeast, from turning out in droves last week for the re-opening of the National Museum of Iraq, closed for over a decade.
According to Reuters, the museum was “packed with visitors eager to glimpse relics from happier times.”
Most of the artifacts on display in the two renovated halls date from the Hellenistic period (312-139 B.C.), including a statue of Hercules holding a truncheon and lion skin that was discovered at Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site captured by ISIS in June. Other notable artifacts include a statue of King Sanatruq I, one of Hatra’s more successful rulers; an eagle poises on his head, wings extended, to represent his victories.
Qais Rashid, head of the Iraqi Museum Department, told Reuters that some of the artifacts on display were recovered from looters who stripped the museum after the 2003 U.S. invasion.
As for artifacts and heritage sites in territories now controlled by ISIS, museum leaders are increasingly pessimistic. After the fall of Mosul, Qais Hussein, head of Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, told the Wall Street Journal, “I’m sure that if they continue to control this city, they will destroy all of those things. They’ve already aggressively attacked our employees working in those sites and in the museums telling them that this is haram [forbidden] to work in a place with those statues and objects.”