The Friends of Basrah Museum was founded in 2010 by a group of interested UK based individuals with the initial concept first discussed at a lunch in the British Museum in September 2007, involving Major General Barney White-Spunner, Neil MacGregor, then Director of the British Museum and Dr John Curtis, then Keeper of the Department of the Middle East at the British Museum. The lunch had been arranged to provide Major-General White-Spunner with up to date information about the state of Iraq’s cultural heritage, as he was due to be deployed there in February 2008 as Commander-in-Chief of British troops and General Officer Commanding the Multi-National Division South-East.
At the lunch, it was suggested that the greatest need would be to arrange for the inspection of archaeological sites and the protection/refurbishment of museums. General White-Spunner appointed Major Hugo Clarke as the manager of this project.Once in Basrah, Clarke soon decided that for security and logistical reasons they would have to focus on establishing a museum in Basrah, and the army made contact with the young director of the existing Basrah Museum, Mr Qahtan Al Abeed. At a meeting in British army headquarters in Basrah on 15th April 2008, involving Qahtan Al Abeed, Hugo Clarke and other army personnel, and John Curtis, the group was shown outline plans drawn up by Major Rupert Burridge of a small palace of former President Saddam Hussein. This building, known as the Lakeside Palace, had been used by the British army as a dining hall until they moved out to the camp in Basrah Airbase. So the Palace was already well known when the proposal to develop an Iraqi-British project to protect and promote cultural heritage in Southern Iraq was first mooted and to convert the Lakeside Palace into a new museum as part of the British legacy to Basrah.
All at the meeting agreed that in principle the Lakeside Palace would be the best option for a new museum, and Burridge and the Royal Engineers were instructed was to proceed with drawing up detailed plans. Qahtan Al Abeed embraced the project enthusiastically as the existing Basrah Museum was not fit for purpose. It was located in an old courtyard house, in poor condition, in an insecure part of the town, and was unsuitable for displaying and safeguarding high value archaeological and historical material. (It has since become the offices of the Basrah Antiquities & Heritage.)
Following this, on 29th April 2008, a workshop was arranged at the British Museum to present to the international community proposals for a new museum in Basrah and a survey of archaeological sites in Southern Iraq. The workshop, which included Iraqi colleagues Dr Mufid al-Jazairi, Mr Bahaa Mayah, Dr Ismail Hijara and Dr Saad Eskander, as well as Neil MacGregor, Andy Burnham, Secretary of State, DCMS, and Major-General White-Spunner, enthusiastically endorsed both proposals. With this mandate from the workshop, and with the full approval of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH), the next and main phase of the project was planned for June 2008. This consisted of a visit to Iraq by Dr John Curtis and Dr Paul Collins of the British Museum, Dr Margarete Van Ess of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin, and Professor Elizabeth Stone of Stony Brook University, New York. In addition to inspecting archaeological sites, on 3rd June the group visited the Lakeside Palace and met there with an Iraqi delegation that included Qais Hussein Rashid of SBAH, and Qahtan Alabeed, the Director of Basrah Museum. Also present was Fiona Gibb, the UK Deputy Consul-General. There was enthusiastic support for the project by the SBAH officials, but it was recognized that further official steps would have to be taken before the project could be signed oﬀ.
With no prospect of any British government funding, and the withdrawal of the British army in early 2009, the project was put on hold until it was resuscitated in the period 27th June - 3rd July 2009 when John Curtis and Paul Collins were able to revisit Iraq and stay in the British Consulate in Basrah Airbase. During this period a number of useful meetings took place involving Qahtan Al Abeed, Mrs Zahra Hamza Albachari of Basrah Provincial Council and officials of the construction firm Mott MacDonald. Soon after this, in July 2009, came the long-awaited news that both Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Basrah Provincial Council had agreed that the Lakeside Palace could become the new museum for Basrah. This excellent result was a tribute to the ceaseless and untiring lobbying by Qahtan Al Abeed and other colleagues in Iraq.
In response to this new development, a meeting was called at the British Museum on Thursday 24th September 2009 to discuss how the project could be taken forward.
There was great enthusiasm for supporting what could be regarded as a British legacy project, but it was clear that any funds would have to come from the private sector and not from HMG. At that time it was believed that around £10,000,000 would be needed to restore the Lakeside Palace and turn it into a museum, but it was felt that a pragmatic approach would be to try and raise the start-up costs in the UK and ask the Iraq government to cover the remainder. John Curtis was tasked with setting up a steering committee. This committee had its first meeting, under the chairmanship of Dr Salah al-Shaikhly, a former Iraqi Ambassador to the UK, on 2nd December 2009. Other members were John Curtis (Secretary), Sir Terence Clark, Dr Lamia al Gailani Werr, and Major Hugo Clarke, with Angela Smith taking the notes. The steering committee met again, now with the addition of HBM Vice-Consul Alice Walpole and under the chairmanship of Sir Terence Clark, on 23rd February 2010.
With a generous grant from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport some members of the steering committee - Sir Terence Clark, John Curtis and Lamia al-Gailani Werr – were able to visit Basrah in the period 27th April -1st May 2010. They joined Alice Walpole (Consul-General) for meetings with the Governor, the Chancellor of Basrah University, Mrs Zahra Albachari and Qahtan Alabeed. It was unanimously agreed that the palace would make a splendid museum, being exactly the size required with potential for expansion and enjoying an attractive location on the banks of the Shatt al Arab. Further, the palace had not been looted during the 2nd Gulf War and was felt to be in remarkably good condition. The only drawback noted was the extensive presence of Saddam Hussein monograms in the decorative scheme, but it was agreed that these were part of the history of the site and should not be removed. The team also met with Ian Elliot and Peter Hunt of the British civil engineering firm Mott MacDonald. The latter kindly offered to do pro bono a new detailed survey of the building and an analysis of costs. This new cost estimate prepared in due course by Mott MacDonald came to $2,972,563 (including showcases).
It had by now become clear that in order to collect funds for the new museum a UK - registered charity would have to be set up. For this purpose, Christopher McCall, QC, kindly provided pro bono for the meeting on 30th July 2010 the necessary paperwork,and the charity, Friends of Basra Museum, came into being at its next meeting on 9th August, with Sir Terence Clark as Chairman, John Curtis as Secretary, and Lamia al-Gailani Werr, Salah al-Shaikhly, Clare Bebbington and the Hon Alice Walpole as Trustees. Soon after, Liane Butcher of RPS Energy was appointed as a Trustee and Treasurer.
Following this, Qahtan Al Abeed spent a month at the British Museum in autumn 2010 drawing up a space plan and a business plan for the new museum.
The new charity was launched at a reception in the King’s Library at the British Museum, on 1st December 2010, sponsored by BP who gave up their booking of the museum for that evening. Seven colleagues from Iraq were present, including Qais Hussein Rashid (Chairman of SBAH), Dr Amira Edan (Director of the Iraq Museum), Qahtan Al Abeed, and Mrs Zahra Hamza Albachary. Speeches were delivered by Neil MacGregor, Qais al-Rashid, Bob Dudley, Chief Executive of BP, and Sir Terence Clark. A memorandum of understanding between the SBAH and the Friends of Basrah Museum was signed by Qais al-Rashid and Sir Terence Clark, with both parties promising to collaborate to bring the new museum into being. There were also expressions of support from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq and the British-Iraqi Friendship Society. Shortly after the official launch, a number of generous donations were made to the charity, most notably by BP who contributed $500,000. Other donations were made by Petrofac, the Charlotte Bonham Carter Fund, IPBD Limited, Pulse Brands, and a number of private individuals. It was therefore possible to start the project with assets of around £350,000. There was also a launch in Basrah in spring 2011, organized by Alice Walpole and Qahtan Alabeed. It was attended by officials from Basrah Provincial Council, the Chancellor of Basrah University, and the British Ambassador John Jenkins.
An initial complication for the project was that the Lakeside Palace was now occupied by the Basrah Investment Commission (BIC), even though Basrah Provincial Council had earmarked the Lakeside Palace for use as a museum. However, BIC vacated the building before the end of 2011. It was then decided by the Trustees to split the enabling works into two tranches, and the Iraqi construction firm Bur Alaman was contracted to do the work. The first tranche of work, undertaken in 2012, and overseen by engineer Ali Abdul Hussain of Mott MacDonald, included bricking up windows (for security reasons), installing steel security doors, clearing drains and downpipes, refurbishing restrooms, clearing the area around the building, and placing security lights around the site. In the period 12th-15th February 2013 John Curtis and Lamia al-Gailani were able to inspect the work done to date, and were very impressed by its extent and quality. They were at that time informed by Mrs Zahra Albachary that BPC had allocated $3.7 m for the project, which included $1 m for the showcases.
After this, there was a hiatus until 2015, waiting for the money promised by Basrah Provincial Council which because of budget difficulties in Iraq was never forthcoming. Therefore, with the agreement of Qahtan Al Abeed and the Iraqi authorities, in 2015 the Friends of Basrah Museum decided to use their remaining funds to refurbish and open one gallery of the museum and an education room, with the expectation that once a part of the museum was open funds would soon be forthcoming to cover the remaining work. This one gallery would be devoted to the history of Basrah and its environs, and named the Basrah Gallery. Mott MacDonald had by this time closed its office in Basrah, but Peter Hunt of HWH and Associates, a civil engineering form with an office in Basrah, stepped into the breach and kindly managed the rest of this part of the project pro bono. Bur Alaman was re-engaged to undertake a second tranche of enabling works, and showcases for one gallery were ordered from the firm Reier in Germany.
The second tranche of works was undertaken by Bur Alaman in late 2015 and early 2016, and included repairing and replacing the marble and plaster décor wherever necessary, repairing and renovating woodwork on the inside and outside of the building, painting walls, installing the new showcases and arranging power supplies to them. The showcases were then delivered in spring 2016.
The opening of the Basrah Gallery was a major success for Basrah and the region and fostered the collaboration between the UK and Iraq. This step in the project represented the culmination of the first phase of the completion of new Basrah Museum, which was made possible by the generosity of the donors, particularly BP, the Iraqi authorities, HWH & Associates, Bur Alamaan and with the total dedication of the Museum’s Director, Qahtan Al Abeed without whom the first phase of this project could not have been completed.
This FOBM background summary of the new Basrah Museum project is based on a talk delivered by FOBM Chairman Sir Terence Clark to The Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) in July 2016. At the end of his talk (PDF download here), he summarised the following
The project will have taken six years to bring to fruition but we hope that at the end of the day we shall have achieved part of a much needed resource for southern Iraq, which in the fullness of time will set a new standard for the whole region. It will also serve as a positive demonstration of British support for the redevelopment of Iraq in the post-Saddam era. My deep regret is that we did not have the funds to finish the job; and we have had no indication from the Iraqis when they might have the funds to complete their part. If, however, we could secure another $2- 2.5 million in the coming months, everything is in place for us to carry out the rest of the work. So I am open to offers! I should add that we are preparing to bid for funds from the Government’s recently announced Culture Protection Fund of £30 million. However, if we are unsuccessful, the Friends of the Basrah Museum will have to be wound up. But strong links have already been forged between the new Museum and the British Museum and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI), which will help to maintain and further develop the relationship with Britain into the future. BISI are indeed supporting the launch with a public workshop and conference in Basra on 28 and 29 September, which will be attended by a number of international experts, who will help to create resources for the Museum to draw upon and to explore options for future collaboration.
Phase Two – Cultural Protection Fund (CPF) Grant award
In June 2016 the British Council announced the establishment of a £30 million fund in partnership with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to help create sustainable opportunities for economic and social development through building capacity to foster, safeguard, and promote cultural heritage affected by conflict overseas. Dr John Curtis on behalf of the FOBM Trustees sent an expression of interest form regarding the completion of the new Basrah Museum as the Trustees considered that the completion of project would provide a lasting positive legacy for the people of Basrah and Iraq and would contribute to the promotion of cultural heritage in the region. The Trustees received confirmation of their eligibility to apply in July 2016. Dr Curtis and Joan Porter MacIver, FOBM Volunteer, completed the application and submitted it to the British Council. The competition for these grant awards was very tough and the Trustees had no certainty of success. During the opening of the Basrah Gallery and the two day British Institute for the Study of Iraq/BISI sponsored workshop in late September, the Director of the Museum and some attendees were aware of the FOBM application but it was very important not to raise any expectations and it was not generally discussed. FOBM Trustee Dr John Curtis delivered an address at the opening and there were presentations by a number of Iraqi dignitaries. Other FOBM Trustees attended the opening: Dr Lamia al-Gailani Werr, Liane Butcher. Clare Bebbington and future Trustee, Hugo Clarke.
In December 2016 the first round of grants were awarded for seven CPF funded projects and a grant was awarded to the Trustees of the Friends of Basrah Museum for the completion of the new Basrah Museum. The Trustees appointed Joan Porter MacIver, BISI Trustee and from February 2017 Vice-Chair and former BISI/BSAI London Administrator, as the UK coordinator for the project, with the approval of the British Council. The Trustees appointed new Trustees to be involved with the project: Angela Grimshaw, to be Hon Treasurer, Hugo Clarke, and Ian McGregor. Dr Al-Shaikly and Hon. Alice Walpole stepped down from their Trustee roles in December 2016. During December 2016 and January 2017 the fund requirements to commence were met and in mid-January the FOBM finally received the permission to start the grant funded project. The Iraqi authorities had agreed to the FOBM coordinating this project and the Basrah Provincial Council is also assisting with the Museum’s project.
Close cooperation between the British Council grant managers and the FOBM is being developed and the British Council provided crucial support for the necessary procurement procedures for the bids for the manufacturing of 54 Museum Display cases for the remaining three galleries to be delivered to the Basrah Museum. After an EU procurement process the bid was awarded on a competitive basis to Reier, who supplied the display cases for the first phase of the project in the Basrah Gallery. This expenditure represents over half of the grant funding and remaining funds are targeted to hold training programmes for museum staff and volunteers on exhibition development, interpretation, graphic design, conservation and scientific analysis. These programmes will be undertaken by a range of UK and international professionals.
Over the coming two years the FOBM will be working closely with the British Council, the Basrah Museum and its Director, Qahtan Al Abeed, the Basrah Provincial Council, and Qais H. Rasheed, Vice Minister of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) of the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, to implement the completion of the Basrah Museum in keeping with the goals of the Cultural Protection Fund for the people of Basrah, the Southern region and for all of Iraq and to be an important legacy of the British administration in Southern Iraq. The project is due to be completed by March 2019 and HWH & Associates is the named FOBM partner for Project Management on the ground in Basrah.
April 2018 - For updates on the work of the FOBM, please go to the Website's News feed. A Report on the January 2018 Training Programme can be viewed here. The Trustees are delighted to report that 57 boxes containing 54 Reier Museum Display showcases have been delivered to the Basrah Museum in March 2018.
The 2018-2019 project will focus on the installation, design and labelling of the objects, that are currently being selected by a joint committee, made up of colleagues from Basrah and Baghdad with Dr Lamia Al Gailani-Werr representing the FOBM. Further training will be taking place later in the year focusing on the Basrah Museum Staff.