Basrah Museum opening is delayed

Oil company BP funds initial development of Iraqi museum
Patrick Steel
The opening of the Basrah Museum in Iraq has stalled due to a delay in a $2.6m grant from the Basrah Provincial Council to cover the cost of the remaining works, but funds from oil company BP may allow a part-opening next year.

Lamia Al-Gailani, a research associate at the University of London and trustee of The Friends of Basrah Museum, said: “Basrah Council hasn’t received its money from [the Iraqi] central government. At the moment everything has stopped because they don’t have the money, so they are waiting for them to go ahead.”

The Friends of Basrah Museum, a UK charity set up to establish the museum, which lists its principal address as the Department of the Middle East at the British Museum in London, had hoped it would be fully open to the public by the end of this year, but are now looking to open part of it in 2016.

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said: “The plan is that the Friends of Basrah Museum will spend its remaining funds on opening a part of the museum. This will be an exhibition dedicated to the history of Basrah. It is likely to open in the first half of next year. Thereafter it is hoped that Basrah Provincial Council will release the funds necessary to develop the remainder of the museum.”

According to the Friends of Basrah Museum's accounts BP is its biggest donor, with donations of £150,007 in 2011-12 and a further £157,748 in 2012-13. The charity also received £21,735 in the period up to March 2012 from Petrofac, a global oilfield services company.

The refurbishment work to date has been carried out by Iraqi company Burlaman and project-managed by Mott MacDonald, which has its headquarters in London but an office in Basrah and interests in Iraq including delivering accommodation and offices at the BP-managed Rumaila oil field, and engineering and procurement support for the Akas and Al-Mansuria gas fields, which are being developed by the Iraqi State Company for Oil Projects.

The British Museum has also provided support for the museum on a pro bono basis, including fundraising and curatorial advice.

The total cost of the project has been estimated by Mott MacDonald at $3m. This is in addition to $1m for showcases, provided by the Basrah Provincial Council.

A British Museum spokeswoman said: “The Friends of Basrah Museum are not approaching BP or any other body for more funds.

“There is currently no British presence at the museum and neither the Friends of Basrah Museum nor the British Institute for the Study of Iraq currently have plans to provide long-term support to the museum.

“The British Museum is not directly involved in this, but it can help with writing labels, panels, etc.

“We are optimistic that Basrah Provincial Council will pick up the project in the near future. This would be the most appropriate way forward.”

The museum will tell the story of the cultural heritage of Basrah and southern Iraq, from the prehistoric period to the present day. The Friends of Basrah Museum want it to set a standard for the whole region, with facilities for school parties and contents tied to the Iraqi national curriculum.

Most of the objects in the museum will be sent from Baghdad, agreed between the director of the Basrah Museum and the director of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, but will also include objects collected locally in Basrah.

Threat to British Museum from Islamic State

A British Museum spokeswoman downplayed recent reports in the press that its museum in London was under threat from Islamic State.

“There is no intelligence to suggest a threat,” she said. “Like many museums we underwent a security review following the threat level being raised to high in London last August. We regularly review our security processes and how we manage our visitor flow.”

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