• March 21, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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Over 2,000 artifacts, including about 100 that were looted and found abroad, were unveiled Tuesday in a museum in Basra province on the southern tip of Iraq, authorities said. 

On Tuesday between 2,000 and 2,500 pieces went on display in the Basra Museum, the second largest in Iraq, said Qahtan al-Obeid, head of archeology and heritage in the province. 

“They date from 6000 BC to 1500 AD,” he told AFP, referring to the Assyrian, Babylonian and Sumerian periods. Obeid said about 100 artifacts – most of which came from Jordan and the United States – were given back to Iraq to be displayed in the museum, a former palace of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein. 

The heritage of Iraq, most of which was former Mesopotamia, has paid a heavy price due to the wars that have ravaged the country for nearly four decades. Following the US-led invasion that overthrew Saddam in 2003, ISIS destroyed many of the country’s ancient statues and pre-Islamic treasures. 

During its occupation of nearly a third of Iraq between 2014 and 2017, ISIS captured much attention by posting videos of its militants destroying statues and heritage sites with sledgehammers. But experts say they mostly destroyed pieces too large to smuggle and sell off, and kept the smaller pieces, several of which are already resurfacing on the black market in the West. 

The United States says it has repatriated more than 3,000 stolen artifacts to Iraq since 2005, including many seized in conflict zones in the Middle East. 


  • March 21, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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A 3,000-year-old carved stone tablet from Babylonia, said to place a curse on anyone who tries to destroy it, is to be flown home from Britain after being looted during the Iraq War. British Museum director Hartwig Fischer handed over the priceless work to Iraqi Ambassador Salih Husain Ali during a ceremony on Tuesday after museum experts had verified its authenticity.

“It is a very important piece of Iraq’s cultural heritage,” said Fischer, praising the “extraordinary and tireless work” of border officials. The attempt to smuggle the piece into Britain was thwarted by the UK Border Force at London’s Heathrow airport in May 2012. It had been declared at customs as a carved stone made in Turkey and valued at $330. 

But when the package was opened it caught the attention of a Border Force officer who recognized that the declaration was false. After a long investigation against the importer, the case was resolved in favor of Iraq, with coordination from the British Museum, which acts as the specialist adviser on cultural property for the British government. 

“They seized this item when they saw it at a British port and several years later, after a lot of legal work, we are able to effect this transfer,” said Michael Ellis, Britain’s Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism. “It’s a very important and significant moment.” It is still not clear how the object was taken out of Iraq, “but we believe it was probably stolen about 15 years ago during troubles in Iraq,” Ellis added. 

Ambassador Ali said the handover came after continued cooperation between the Iraqi embassy in London and the British authorities, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Museum and British police. “As a representative of the Iraqi government, I am looking to receive more handovers in the future if any Iraqi antiquities are found here,” Ambassador Ali told Arab News. 

Dr. St. John Simpson, curator at the British Museum, also told Arab News that they "identified it very quickly as a very important inscribed Mesopotamian document of the 12th century B.C. of known king Nebuchadnezzar I, and that this object must have come from illegal excavations fairly recently in Iraq.” 

He said from the contents of the inscription it appeared the piece came from Nippur, which was a big ancient Sumerian and Babylonian site in southern Iraq. It was heavily looted in 2003 and the museum believes the object came from that phase of destruction of a known archaeological site. British minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, said: 

“Iraq’s rich civilization, culture and history are globally important and sit at the core of its contemporary national identity. I am therefore delighted that the UK Border Force was able to retrieve the illegally trafficked kudurru and that today we can repatriate it, to sit proudly in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.” 

The kudurru is a ceremonial stone tablet recording the legal gifting of land by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar I to one of his subjects in return for distinguished service, according to curator Jonathan Taylor. On one side are depictions of the great Babylonian gods Enlil and Marduk, and on the other, legal text written in cuneiform, the Babylonian alphabet. 

Taylor told Arab News: “What had happened a generation before King Nebuchadnezzar I was that the old dynasty had been swept away, the enemies had invaded, they captured the king, they looted the cities, they also looted the temples and they took away the statue of the city god Marduk, which meant not only the statue had gone but the god Marduk himself had been taken away and they no longer had his protection.” 

Taylor added that the inscription says that the great god Enlil, the father of the gods, came up with a plan to save the day, so he created Nebuchadnezzar as the avenger of the Babylonians and the brave king marched into enemy territory, defeated the Elamite, took the statue back, brought it to Babylon and order was restored. “It is such an important moment in Babylonian history. 

Forever after the Babylonians told stories about this great, brave king who brought Marduk back, and in response they created the Babylonian epic of creation, which tells about how Marduk was appointed to defeat the forces of chaos and to put order into the universe. So, every spring at the new year festival they recite this epic of creation.” 

Taylor said the object also carried “terrible curses” for anyone trying to claim the land or damage the tablet. “The gift is designed to last forever and there are a list of curses or protective formulas so if anyone should dispute that the gift was made or if they try and hide it, bury it in the dirt, try to destroy it with fire, smash it or get somebody who does not know any better to do it on their behalf, then the gods will curse them in a variety of really horrible ways. So, it is to protect forever this gift in recognition of this act of bravery,” said Taylor. 

Fewer than 200 such objects are known to exist, and the one handed over on Tuesday was broken and eroded, presenting a problem for sleuths trying to establish its history. “The basic identification was quite straightforward,” said Taylor. “More difficult was tying down exactly who the king was and what the circumstances were. For that we needed to read the inscription and it was quite worn, there was a lot of damage in the middle of the text. It was old-fashioned bookwork, but we had a few clues.” 

Ellis said: “It’s more than just a carved stone... It is a testament to the remarkable history of the Republic of Iraq.” This is the second handover so far on such a significant level. Eight antiquities were given back to Iraq seven months ago from the British Museum and it is investigating other cases of material coming from Iraq that will have to be returned. 

“We would like to reboot our bilateral relations in many fields not just on the humanities side, but we are getting good support from our friends and through the global coalition to defeat terrorism in Iraq, especially Daesh,” said Ali. Burt added: “This latest repatriation, in conjunction with the British Museum, is just one example of the UK’s ongoing commitment to helping Iraq create for itself a prosperous and secure future following the fall of Daesh; a goal it is well on the way to achieving.” 

The initiative is part of a wider Iraqi scheme between the British Museum and the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage of Iraq (SBAH) in Baghdad. The scheme was initiated by Jonathan Tubb, keeper at the museum, in 2015 following the dreadful destruction of places such as Nimrud, Nineveh and Hatra, all in the Mosul region. “It was quite clear that we couldn’t do anything on the ground, I mean nobody could get into that region and it would have been foolish to do so,” Tubb told Arab News. 

The scheme introduced a constructive method of training SBAH employees in all the techniques they would need to confront the aftermath of the destruction, enabling them to work methodically and systematically from day one to record and excavate what was left. They are trained in surveying, photographic and field archaeology techniques, as well as drone technology and have two excavation projects in Iraq, one in the north in Iraqi Kurdistan and one in the south at ancient Girsu (modern Tello). 

“By the end of this scheme of which the first phase will be finished next April, we will have trained 50 employees altogether and they will go back to their various departments and train other people so there will be a drip-down effect of the expertise,” said Tubb. “We are delighted to say that because of our training, several of the participants have been now appointed to senior positions within the state board and have been given responsibility for assessing the damages at these sites.” 

by Sarah Glubb

  • March 21, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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For decades, his land was his life. Now, like other Sunni Arab farmers in Iraq's diverse north, Mahdi Abu Enad is cut off from his fields, fearing reprisal attacks. He hails from the mountainous region of Sinjar, which borders Syria and is home to an array of communities -- Shiite and Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and Yazidis. 

That patchwork was ripped apart when the Islamic State group rampaged across the area in 2014, and has not reconciled even long after Iraqi forces ousted IS in 2017. Yazidis, whose men IS killed en masse and whose women and girls were enslaved by the group, say they have suffered the most. They accuse their Sunni Arab neighbours of granting the radical Sunni jihadists of IS a foothold in Sinjar. 

Displaced Sunni Arabs, on the other hand, slam the sweeping accusation as unfair and say looting and the threat of retaliatory violence have kept them from coming home. "We stand accused of belonging to IS because they settled in Sunni areas, but IS doesn't represent Sunnis," said Abu Enad, displaced from his hometown to Al-Baaj since 2014. 

"We all lost our livelihoods. It's been four years since we cultivated our land because we fear for our lives," he said. In 2017, Human Rights Watch said Yazidi armed groups reportedly abducted and executed 52 Sunni Arab civilians in retaliation for IS abuses. 

Fearing similar abuses, Abu Enad still lives about 10 kilometres (six miles) from his farm, and was only able to tend to it during planting season with a paramilitary escort. "We had to leave at 4:00 pm every day because the situation was not safe enough. So how could you come back with your family to resume farming and living here?" he said. 

- 'They betrayed the co-existence' - 

Across Iraq, around a third of the population relies on farming to survive, and the ratio was even higher in Sinjar. For centuries, the region's diverse farmers jointly sold their fig and wheat harvests in the provincial capital of Mosul, 120 kilometres (75 miles) to the east. But in the wake of IS, farming equipment was stolen, orchards burned, and rubble stuffed into irrigation wells. 

Now, the area's once-lush farming hamlets have been reduced to ruined ghost towns, with most Arab villages including Abu Enad's left flattened. A few kilometres to the north, the main town of Sinjar is also still rubble, with little power, water, or health services available. A few thousand Yazidi families have come back, but tens of thousands more are still stuck in displacement camps elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, while others fled to Europe. 

And more than 3,000 Yazidis remain missing, many of them believed to be women and girls taken as sex slaves. That has made it difficult for the community to forgive or forget the mass crimes against them. "The Arabs of Sinjar were involved in the abduction of our women," said Yazidi cleric Sheikh Fakher Khalaf. 

"They betrayed the co-existence we had, so they can no longer live among us," said Khalaf, who returned home to Sinjar after three years of displacement. "Those who have done nothing, we respect them. But those who have blood on their hands, they must face justice. Sinjar is not a place for them." 

- 'Fruits of our labour' - 

Several local initiatives have made minimal progress on reconciliation, but efforts have not gone far enough, said the Norwegian Refugee Council. "We are seeing plans to rebuild and rehabilitate some parts, but we're not seeing any concrete process towards reconciliations," spokesman Tom Peyre-Costa told AFP. 

He called for more dialogue between communities, transparent and fair trials, and accountability for all perpetrators of crimes. Iraqi courts have tried hundreds for belonging to IS, handing down at least 300 death sentences. "People who used to be able to live together are not able to do so anymore because of the tension between communities, so this is why reconciliation must be prioritised," he said. 

While the communal fissures in Sinjar are particularly deep, the challenge of rebuilding trust after IS is one faced across Iraqi society. Sunnis are a minority in Iraq, whose population is about 60 percent Shiite. Displaced Sunnis with perceived ties to IS undergo tough screening processes to return to their hometowns, where they sometimes face harassment. 

Abu Enad, the displaced farmer, still hopes that Sinjar can return to its harmonious past. "We Sunnis have been hurt by Daesh like Yazidis were hurt," he told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS. "We want to come back to our land so we can farm and live off the fruits of our labour alongside them." 


  • March 19, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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Housed in the Lakeside Palace built for Saddam Hussein in 1990, Basrah Museum is now the second largest in Iraq, after the National Museum in Baghdad. The museum opened three new galleries on 19th March, quadrupling its display space following the inauguration in September 2016 of a gallery dedicated to antiquities from the southern Basra region. 

The museum currently attracts around 50,000 visitors a year, including many school groups, but the expansion should further boost numbers. It is run by Qahtan Al Abeed, the city of Basra’s director of antiquities and heritage, who took over after the museum’s former director Mudhar Abd Alhay was shot dead during communal violence in 2005. 

The security situation in Basra is now much improved. Although the Basrah Provincial Council was expected to support the museum, the promised funds never came. Instead, the new galleries have been financed with a £530,000 grant from the UK government’s Cultural Protection Fund, a £30m fund administered by the British Council to safeguard heritage in 12 conflict-affected countries in the Middle East and Africa. 

The new galleries cover Sumer, Assyria and Babylonia, with objects dating from 3000BC to 550BC, including statues, cylinder seals, tablets and jewellery. There are around 1,200 objects on view, many of which have been transferred from the National Museum in Baghdad. The project has also created an education room and trained museum staff and volunteers in labelling and visitor services. 

The late Lamia Al Gailani, an Iraqi-born archaeologist and a founding trustee of the UK-based charity Friends of Basrah Museum, played a key role in the project. She had been in Baghdad to select objects for the Basrah Museum and became ill during a stopover in Amman, Jordan, on her return home to London. She died in January. John Curtis, a former British Museum keeper and the chairman of the Friends of Basrah Museum, believes the museum will prove to be “a model for the region, and even for the Gulf”.

by Martin Bailey 

  • March 19, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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The eighth Babylon Festival for International Cultures and Arts will begin on Thursday in the historical theater of the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon. 

The festival witnesses the participation of poets and creators from different countries of the world, where the festival seeks to confirm the return of Iraqi culture to the valleys of Arab and international culture. 

A large number of Arab countries, including Qatar, Lebanon, Kuwait, Oman, Tunisia, and Morocco, as well as non-Arab countries such as Turkey, Iran, a number of European countries and the United States, will attend the 10-day festival. 

On March 22, World Poetry Day will be celebrated with several poetry readings by a number of leading Iraqi poets and guests in three evenings. Four performances will be presented on March 27 on the occasion of World Theater Day. The cinema presents several Iraqi, Arab, and international documentary and novel films. The events also include the music activities and exhibitions of Iraqi art, and a book fair.

  • March 19, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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The St. Addai Chaldean Catholic community in suburban Auckland felt the impact of the Christchurch mosque killings with a special poignancy, because many members have experienced the sufferings inflicted by terrorism. 

“There is a lady in my community — they beheaded her son in front of her,” Chaldean Father Douglas Al-Bazi told NZ Catholic. “Another man, they killed his parents in front of him.” 

Father Al-Bazi, who was kidnapped for nine days by Islamic militants in 2006 in Iraq, suffering serious injuries — including being shot in the leg by an assailant wielding an AK-47 — said that when he heard of the events in Christchurch, he was “really angry.” 

“There were thousands of questions in my head, and also for my people,” he said. He said he told his parishioners that “we fully understand as Iraqi people, especially Christian, we really understand” the pain, “because we are survivors of genocide, systematic genocide.” 

“I am still shocked, me and my people, how this could happen here in New Zealand,” he added. Father Al-Bazi said people at his church have said they are scared in the wake of the events in Christchurch, fearful of revenge attacks. 

“I told them, no, this is not the time to be scared. It is the time to be united. So, show your happiness, show we are brave, and we have to tell the people how to be calm. Because already, we have had that experience. So, we have to guide people to tell them.” 

Parishioners placed a floral tribute with a message of support in Arabic outside a local mosque the day after the shootings. Father Al-Bazi said most of his community came to New Zealand seeking a safe place, and the violence that happened in Christchurch is unacceptable. 

“I don’t know what we can do for those survivors, for those relatives, the only thing we can do is pray for them and say, ‘This is not New Zealand.'” At the end of Mass March 18, everyone at St. Addai Church sang the national anthem, “God Defend New Zealand” in Maori and in English. 

Police were stationed outside the church and told Father Al-Bazi, “It is for your protection.” The priest said he asked the officers to park a little down the road, so as not to alarm Massgoers. 

By Michael Otto

  • March 18, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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An Iraqi doctor said he is optimistic for the future of his home country after returning to Wales from a visit following a health scare. Dr Laith Al-Rubaiy had raised concern over a diarrhoeal illness in Basra during a water crisis last year. 

The Cardiff-based consultant gastroenterologist has been nominated for an international award for his work helping improve medical care in Iraq. He said Iraq was "gradually returning to some semblance of normality". 

A year and a half since the defeat of Islamic State in the country, and six months since Iraq was in the grip of a water crisis, Dr Al-Rubaiy said Iraqis knew not to get their hopes up. But he said there are signs resilience is growing in important areas of Iraqi society. 

"Certainly, in my own field - medicine and healthcare - the country of my birth now has an air of guarded optimism," he said, after returning from a visit two weeks ago. "A hugely welcome change from the feelings I had the last time I visited. This is a great step forward to provide equality and quality in health services to everyone." 

Dr Al-Rubaiy, who lives in Cardiff with his wife, eight-year-old son and daughter, five, is a senior clinical lecturer at Swansea University, and works as a consultant at St Mark's hospital in Harrow, Greater London. On 21 March, he will find out whether he has won the St David International Award at a ceremony in Cardiff. 

He was nominated in recognition of his four visits in five years to Basra, in southern Iraq, where he worked with the Amar Foundation to set up mobile clinics, train medical professionals, establish cancer and virus screening projects and set up Skype consultations with doctors in Cardiff. 

Dr Ali Muthanna, Amar's general director in Iraq, described the level of care provided by Dr Al-Rubaiy as "exceptional". "He is a passionate supporter of Amar's healthcare services in Iraq and his voluntary work with us makes a real difference to the lives of some of Iraq's poorest people," he said. 

For Dr Al-Rubaiy, who trained in Basra during the US and allied invasion in 2003, it represents an opportunity to return Iraq's healthcare system to being the envy of the region. "If this positive momentum continues, it will not be long until the Iraq healthcare system, that was once the best in the region, achieves its full potential," he added. 

by the BBC

  • March 18, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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Twenty-five theatre troupes from Iraq, the Kurdistan Region, and Arab and other foreign countries gathered at the 5th International Street Theatre Festival in Baghdad over the weekend. Troupes performed on the streets in the Iraqi capital. 

"We chose 15 groups and they started their plays. Another 10 European and Arab groups also started their own plays," explained organizer Karim Khanjar. Despite recent waves of conflict, Baghdad was once known for being a top city in the Middle East for the arts. 

"Troupes also came from Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, France and Kuwait. They all took part in the festival. Attendees welcomed the plays," added Khanjar. The plays were held on various streets throughout Baghdad and will end on Monday. 

"We are pleased to have participated in the street play in Baghdad. It is good making a contact to some extent and an introduction with a gathering. You feel happy when you see others' performances and they see our Kurds' performances so we learn one another’s level," said Muzhada Jawhar. 

She acted in the play 'Brave Girl' and represented Garmiyan and the Kifri Fine Arts Institute. Last year, just three cities in the Kurdistan Region took part including Kirkuk, Kifri and Koya. "We won three awards. This year, the number has increased to five cities including Halabja, Kirkuk, Koya, Kifri, and Chamchamal," director Najad Najim said. On the final day of the festival, a nine-member committee will award the best plays. 

by Halkawt Aziz

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