BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq opened a new antiquities museum in the southern city of Basra on Tuesday with pottery, coins and other artifacts dating back more than 2,000 years.
Only one hall was opened due to a shortage of funds, Qahtan al-Obaid, the museum director, told The Associated Press by telephone. It will showcase artifacts dating back to 400 B.C. that tell the history of the oil-rich city on the Persian Gulf.
He said there are plans to open other wings that would exhibit Babylonian, Assyrian and Sumerian artifacts from across Iraq dating back to 3,300 B.C. Iraq is currently in the grip of an economic crisis linked to the plunge in global oil prices and the war against the Islamic State group.
The museum is housed in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, which had briefly served as a mess hall for British troops after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that overthrew him. Al-Obaid said the location was chosen in order to "replace the themes of dictatorship and tyranny with civilianization and humanity."
The museum was conceived in 2008 after the British withdrawal, and was partly funded by a U.K. charity. The hall that opened Tuesday cost an estimated $750,000, of which $500,000 was provided by the oil company BP, which operates in Basra, al-Obaid said.
Basra has been inhabited for thousands of years, but the current city dates back to A.D. 637. It flourished during the Middle Ages as an important cultural and commercial center of the Abbasid Empire, and was the departure point for Sinbad the Sailor's fictional adventures in Africa and South Asia.
Iraq's oil-rich south is far from the front lines of the war with the Islamic State group, which has destroyed ancient sites in northern Iraq and neighboring Syria.
Associated Press writer Nabil al-Jourani in Basra, Iraq, contributed to this report.