Saddam’s Basra palace to be turned into museum

In September, the first museum to be built in Iraq since the 2003 Gulf War will open to the public inside a former Basra palace of Saddam Hussein.

The Lakeside Palace is located 2km south of the city, beside the Shatt al-Arab and an artificial lake (Friends of the Basra Museum)

The project has been overseen by Qahtan al-Abeed, director of Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage for Basra, who began petitioning the central government in 2008 to hand over the palace to his organisation.

According to al-Abeed’s plan, the palace will be split into four sections that will exhibit artefacts from the civilizations of Sumer, Babylon and Assyria, along with art from the Islamic period up to 1800AD.

Between 3,500 and 4,000 pieces will be returned to Basra from Baghdad. Most of Basra’s collection was formerly housed in the Basra Museum, which was looted after the 1991 Gulf War and is now considered unfit for purpose as a museum. After that the remaining antiquities were sent to Baghdad for safekeeping, although some were then looted in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion.

The British Museum has been involved in the transformation of Saddam’s "Lakeside Palace", one of several built for him on the outskirts of the city in the 1990s. The museum comments on its website that the building has an attractive location on the Shatt al-Arab waterway, and has enough space for four exhibition galleries.

Al-Abeed told the National Geographic magazine: "We want a very modern museum that does more than display objects. We want to bring in people for all kinds of art and cultural activities, including training courses and professional meetings."

In 2008, the construction costs for the work was estimated to be about $10m. Al-Abeed has been given $3m by the Basra city council for renovations, most of which will be used to repair damage from car bombings. He would also like to install steel doors to prevent a third round of looting from occurring in the future.

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