Najaf Airport, Iraq Travel, Iraq Tourism
Alaa al-Marjani/AP
Najaf Airport, Iraq

Reopening of National Museum Signals Progress in Iraq

February 24, 2009 11:33 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
The Iraq National Museum has been partially reopened, and an Italian tourist attempted to visit Falluja this month, perhaps indicating a tourism revival in the war-torn nation.

Small Steps Toward Normalcy

Six years after vicious fighting in Baghdad forced it to close, the Iraq National Museum reopened this week with a grandiose ceremony attended by “politicians, business tycoons and other Iraqi VIPs,” according to Newsweek.

But the opening is only partial. Looters took more than 15,000 items from the museum's collections, and 6,000 have been recovered. The reclaimed items are now on display in seven of the museum's 23 exhibition rooms, including the newly refurbished Assyrian and Islamic halls.

Before the U.S.-led invasion, the museum was a “trove of priceless, centuries-old artifacts,” and Iraqi officials are committed to restoring it to its former glory. “Opening this museum is a stage at which we stop to derive morals and lessons, the first being that ... [Iraq] is not a nation without roots,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told the crowd at the reopening ceremony.

The museum's revival comes on the heels of another potential boost for tourism in Iraq. Earlier this month, 33-year-old Luca Marchio of Como, Italy, attempted to travel from Baghdad into Falluja, but was stopped and held by Iraqi officials concerned for his safety, according to The New York Times. 

“I want to see and understand the reality because I have never been here before, and I think every country in the world must be seen,” Marchio told the Times.

Although religious tourism is still strong in Najaf and Karbala, the Italian Foreign Ministry advises tourists against visiting Iraq. When asked when general tourists would be able to travel freely and safely throughout the country, a reception manager at The Coral Palace hotel in Baghdad told The New York Times, “I can't guess when because now the security situation is good, but you know this country, you can expect anything any minute.”

Attracting tourists will be an uphill battle for Iraq, as many historic archaeological sites were heavily damaged in the war.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of State discourages travelers from heading to Iraq because of security concerns.

“Besides the threat to safety, tourists would face other problems, including a lack of infrastructure such as rundown hotels and overstretched medical facilities,” reported the Boston Herald.

However, a new airport has been completed and is now functioning in Najaf, a Shiite holy city. Officials hope the airport will attract more religious pilgrims, thousands of whom already travel to Najaf each year.

Bringing tourists to other Iraqi locales could be more challenging. After invading Iraq in 2003, the United States chose Al-Hillah, the present-day site of the ancient city of Babylon, as a base for military operations, resulting in great damage to its archaeological sites. However, the UN and wealthy donors are funding restoration efforts.

Other attempts by Iraq to promote tourism have been made in recent years, and some areas of the country seem poised for resurgence.

Reuters points out that “massive investment” will be needed to create jobs and “cement security gains” before tourism can truly take off.

Background: Tourism’s baby steps

Related Topic: Bringing Babylon back

Reference: Travel advice and warnings


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines