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Iraqi Museum Specialists Enhance Their Skills in the United States

Washington -- Twenty-three Iraqi museum specialists are in the United States for five weeks of intensive training to develop their professional skills in management and conservation of cultural antiquities and to establish lasting connections with American counterparts.

The five-week training program, known as the Cultural Heritage Institute, is sponsored by the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) in partnership with the Council of American Overseas Research Centers and the Smithsonian Institution. The Iraqi specialists arrived in the United States February 27.

Most of the visiting professionals are affiliated with the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad, which was badly looted and damaged following the coalition military actions last April. During their stay in the United States, they will participate in discussions and practical training workshops with American experts in cultural and historical preservation and archaeology at the Smithsonian and at museums, monuments, and historic sites in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The training program aims to prepare the next generation of museum specialists and help them forge ongoing relationships with their American colleagues. The visiting professionals -- 15 women and 8 men -- specialize in such areas as documentation and restoration of museum objects, education, exhibition design, and survey and excavation of archaeological sites at the Museum of Najaf, the Museum of Diala, and the Babylon Museum, as well as the Iraq National Museum.

Welcoming the group, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Patricia Harrison recalled her visit to the Iraq National Museum last September.

"It was so overwhelming to see in one place the evidence of 10,000 years of culture and history," she said. "We are so pleased not only that you have been chosen as specialists in your field to come to this country for training, but that Americans will be able to learn about Iraq, your rich culture, history, art, and archaeology."

When the museum reopens, she added, "it's going to be wonderful, especially for young people who haven't had a chance to learn in an organized way, as you'll see here, through programs to engage and teach them through interactive programs."

Harrison noted that assistance for museums is part of ECA's focus on rebuilding Iraq's cultural institutions, an effort that already has brought the Iraq National Symphony and the first Iraqi Fulbright scholars in 14 years to the United States. "Food and water are very important, but art and archaeology and history -- the culture of a country -- are food for the soul," she said.

Last April Secretary of State Colin Powell pledged U.S. support for reconstruction of Iraq's museums and recovery and restoration of stolen objects, especially from the Iraq National Museum. Since then, ECA has provided $2 million to support the preservation of Iraq's cultural heritage and is coordinating private donations, including $1 million from the Packard Humanities Institute.

Following the looting of the Iraq National Museum, ECA immediately awarded a grant to the International Council of Museums to publish a "Red List of Iraqi Antiquities at Risk" that alerts customs officials, police officers, and art dealers to objects that may have been stolen from Iraq. Within six months of the looting, more than 3,400 artifacts had been recovered. An inventory of the museum's storerooms is ongoing to determine exactly how many objects have been lost.

After dispatching a team of experts to assess needs at the museum, ECA committed $700,000 for building repairs, improvements in electrical, plumbing, and climate control systems, and installation of a computer network and communications equipment. Additional funds have been applied toward improved security and conservation materials. With funding from the Packard Humanities Institute, ECA also has supported museum security planning, the purchase of computers, photographic equipment, and related supplies for the museum and is providing communications and transportation equipment and training for guards at archaeological sites in Iraq's provinces.

ECA is coordinating the response of other U.S. government agencies, such as the Library of Congress, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which also are providing technical assistance grants to educational institutions and NGOs to help preserve Iraq's cultural heritage.

During their stay in the United States, the Iraqi museum specialists will work with experts at several Smithsonian facilities, including the National Museum of Natural History and the Freer and Sackler Galleries, which specialize in Asian and African art. They also will visit and study at Historic St. Mary's City, the first settlement in the State of Maryland; the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Liberty Bell National Historic Site in Philadelphia; Jamestown, Virginia, the site of the first permanent settlement in what is now the United States; Williamsburg, Virginia, a restored colonial town; National Park Service headquarters in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; and American Indian museums and archeological sites in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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