Cultural heritage predation in Iraq

The sectarian appropriation of Iraq's past
Research paper Updated 17 May 2022 Published 24 March 2022 ISBN: 978 1 78413 511 9 DOI: 10.55317/9781784135119
A guard in front of a replica of the Ishtar Gate at the ancient city of Babylon, Iraq, on 20 December 2016.

Since 2003, Iraq’s elites have appropriated the country’s rich cultural heritage in the service of various undesirable agendas. These range from commercialization to the propagation of sectarian and exclusionary political or religious narratives. Large sections of Iraq’s cultural heritage are now captured for private gain, diminishing its role as a public good accessible to all Iraqis.

A major factor behind these developments has been the political power-sharing system of muhasasa, which is premised on the division of key state roles along sectarian lines. Under this system, income and other resources derived from cultural heritage increasingly accrue not to the Iraqi state but to subnational institutions that actively promote ethno-nationalism, sectarianism and religious objectives.

This paper explores examples of the negative impact of heritage predation on Iraqi society to date, and makes recommendations for both Iraqi and international institutions to counter the damaging effects of muhasasa and the sectarian allocation of cultural resources.

An Arabic translation of the paper is available as a PDF via this link.