The Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage preserves the legacy of humanity contained in the unique cultural heritage of Iraq. It accomplishes this through educating people in conservation and preservation and by inviting professionals from around the world to share their expertise.
Iraq's people share the heritage of ancient Mesopotamia, the "cradle of Western civilization." Iconic sites throughout the country, including the famed temples of Babylon, the ziggurat at Ur, and Nimrud, capital of the Assyrian empire, chronicle early human history and the roots of western civilizations. Religious and secular structures such as the spiral minaret at Samarra, the Yazidi temple at Lalesh, the Erbil citadel, 19th-century Ottoman homes and historic souks document the complex web of faiths, empires and trade that have shaped Iraq. Museum collections in the country exhibit everything from artifacts recovered from Neanderthal sites and imposing Assyrian bas-reliefs to exquisite ivory figures from Nimrud, graceful Islamic calligraphy and traditional Kurdish textiles from the many ethnic and religious communities in the country.
Iraqis are committed to preserving this extraordinary heritage and, since 2008, have partnered with American institutions including the University of Delaware and UD's Department of Art Conservation to create the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH) that provides Iraqi cultural heritage professionals with the educational resources they need to address Iraq's acute, far-reaching preservation issues.
Prior to 1980, Iraq boasted a robust and internationally recognized cultural heritage sector staffed by career professionals with advanced degrees and decades of experience in museum management and archaeology. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the 1991 and 2003 Gulf Wars, decades of disinterest in cultural heritage on the part of a repressive government, and the isolation and sanctions of the 1990s decimated this sector leaving a shrinking staff lacking basic skills to manage, interpret and preserve damaged, looted and deteriorating sites and collections. More recently, Iraq's heritage sector has been challenged by extremist terrorist action, such as the intentional, rampant destruction of cultural heritage by ISIS.
IICAH's mission is to help rebuild Iraq's cultural heritage sector by providing in-country training in the preservation and conservation of their cultural heritage for Iraq's museum and heritage professionals. Students are drawn from the active ranks of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) and the General Directorate of Antiquities under the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), provincial antiquities departments and university faculty and staff; they are already working in positions where they can apply their newly acquired training and access to international networks.
The Institute, located in Erbil, is a well-equipped modern educational facility offering programs reflecting international standards. Courses are taught by international experts and Iraqi teaching assistants using local resources and materials. IICAH participants include men and women, Arabs and Kurds, Sunni and Shia, Christians and other faiths, from across Iraq—all drawn together by a shared passion for the preservation of one of the world's oldest civilizations and home to some of mankind's most ancient artifacts.
Information about the history and governance of
IICAH can be found throughout this website. Information about current
IICAH-related initiatives at the Smithsonian Institution can be found here and here.