Subject to disastrous looting after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the National Museum of Iraq lost tens of thousands of antiquities. Though US forces were stationed next to the museum they stood by as looters ransacked the building.
Since 2003, US officials have returned 1,046 antiquities and Iraq officials say that they have captured a significant number as well. It was revealed in the New York Times however that 632 artifacts that were repatriated to the country have since gone missing.
Built from a collection started by the famous British spy, explorer and archaeologist Gertrude Bell, the National Museum moved to its present home in 1966. Its collection includes pieces dating back to the fourth millenium BCE. In addition to curating Iraq's past, Gertrude Bell is considered one of the primary architects of the modern state of Iraq. In the picture above she sits with King Faisal of Iraq.
Though it offically re-opened in 2009, the museum remains closed to the public, depriving Iraqis of access to artifacts that stretch back to the dawn of civilization. This lion dates from the Babylonian period.
The subject of articles, photo shoots and international funding, the actual status of the National Museum of Iraq remains a mystery. While restoration continues on the building that was badly damaged in 2003, the director refuses to grant interviews to the press, leaving Iraqis in the dark.
Abed Atiya al-Shemari a guard at the National Museum, pictured here in 2004 at the age of 77, fled looters in 2003. Though he returned to work, the looting remains a national trauma and despite international donations and a grand re-opening in 2009, few Iraqis have set foot in its halls since.
Estimates of the number of artifacts stolen from the National Museum range up to 15,000 with many more artifacts taken from archaeological sites across the country. Though the recovery of hundreds of these treasures was trumpeted as a great success, they are still inaccessible to the public.
These looted figurines were recovered by Iraq's Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdioff off the black market in 2005. In 2008 UNESCO estimated that between 3,000-7,000 artifacts were still missing.
With little communication coming from the museum's director and the country facing a resurgence of violence, there are fears that the doors of the National Museum, and works like these Assyrian mural sculptures, may remain closed indefinitely.
Despite, re-opening in 2009 the National Museum of Iraq is closed to the general public and its status and the fate of the treasures within remain shrouded in mystery.