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Closed since Gulf War
Iraq reopens national museum
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- At the national museum in Baghdad, Iraq has reopened the doors to its greatest treasures, giving the public the first view of Iraq's archaeological wealth since the Persian Gulf War.
The museum reopened April 28, President Saddam Hussein's birthday. According to the Information Ministry, the Iraqis had kept the museum closed, because of the threat of more strikes from United States airplanes.
The Gulf War began January 16, 1991, when a U.S.-led military coalition launched air raids against Iraq and its forces occupying neighboring, oil-rich Kuwait. The conflict lasted 43 days until a land offensive pushed Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, which Iraq invaded in 1990.
"As everyone knows, our civilization goes deep in the history for 9,000 years," said Human Abdul-Khaliq, minister of culture and information. "So when you have a new look at this museum, you can compare our civilization and the uncivilized behavior of the American aggression against our people."
Present-day Iraq is built between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, site of the ancient Mesopotamia -- considered the cradle of civilization.
The museum's 10,000 pieces on display represent fewer than 3 percent of Iraq's holdings. They're a record of the intricate civilizations built by the Babylonians and Sumarians thousands of years ago.
The area is a draw for archaeologists.
"You can't study the history, all the history of the Near East, without seeing this museum," said archaeologist Roberta Venco of Italy's University of Turin.
One item on display is a Sumarian marble head, considered a fine example of ancient sculpture. Another piece consists of fragments of elephant ivory used in royal furniture -- some with 5,000-year-old traces of paint.
The museum had been infested with termites, and years of storage have damaged the artwork. Iraq hopes to get international restoration help.
Some of the more spectacular pieces, treasures from the royal tombs in Ur and recent excavations from Nimrod, won't be on exhibit until summer.
Correspondent Jane Arraf contributed to this report.
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