U.S. and Iraqi officials have estimated that around 15,000 pieces were stolen from the museum, once one of the world’s leading collections of the region’s artifacts, following the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Of the looted artifacts, around 6,000 have since been recovered — but thousands more remain missing according to Iraqi and U.N. cultural officials.
Only eight of the museum’s 26 halls were reopened Monday due to a dispute between government departments, according to news outlets.
Tourism and antiquities officials wanted the museum to open to great fanfare to mark the progress Iraq has made, but the Culture Ministry objected, saying the security situation was still too precarious, Reuters reported.
As a compromise, only part of the museum opened and only to arranged groups, such as students, but not the general public.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki thanked countries such as Iran and Syria for helping recover the looted items, some of which had been found as far away as Latin America.
“It was a fierce wave and wild black winds that swept through Iraq,” he said, quoted Reuters. “But we have managed to stop those black winds and to resume rebuilding and reconstruction.”
The museum completed the renovation of its Islamic and Assyrian halls with the help of a $1.1 million donation and technical help from Italy, according to the Agence France-Presse.
The museum has a hall devoted to antiquities that were looted but later returned or recovered, Abdul-Zahrah al-Talqani, media director of Iraq’s office of tourism and archaeology affairs, told the Associated Press.
Iraqi soldiers seized 228 apparently stolen antiquities in December and arrested seven members of a gang suspected of trafficking in such items, a security official in Basra said, reported CNN.
The items included sculptures, gold jewelry, silverware and ceramic bowls buried in gardens.
More than 800 looted artifacts were returned to the National Museum in November 2003, including a 2300 B.C. copper Bassetki statue, a wood-clad-and-bronze brazier and hundreds of other smaller objects, according to CNN.
The Culture Ministry has issued an amnesty for all citizens who return looted archaeological artifacts.