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Iraq's National Museum to reopen this month

Iraq's renowned National Museum will reopen by the end of this month for the first time since the 2004 U.S.-led invasion, an Iraqi minister announced Wednesday.

Iraq's renowned National Museum will reopen by the end of this month for the first time since the 2004 U.S.-led invasion, an Iraqi minister announced Wednesday.

The museum in central Baghdad was looted after the invasion, losing priceless artifacts, some of them thousands of years old.

Doors to the museum will be opened to the public before the end of February, Qahtan al-Jibouri, Iraq's minister of state for tourism and antiquities, said, according to a report from Reuters.

The museum has been renovated and officials have recovered about a third of the 15,000 items looted.

Iraq has also created a special "relics protection force" to guard the museum and other archeological sites, al-Jibouri said.

Iraq looking to boost tourism

The reopening will mark a milestone in re-establishing normal life in Baghdad, where violence is at the lowest level since 2003. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is also counting on the museum to bolster tourism in Iraq.

Iraq is regarded as a cradle of civilization and artifacts covering 5,000 years of Mesopotamian civilization will be on display.

The looting of the National Museum, which was unguarded as U.S. troops stood watch over the oilfields, was widely criticized as a preventable disaster.

The U.S. and Italy have provided money and expertise to restore the National Museum and repair broken artifacts. Washington provided $13 million US for the museum and $700,000 US to repair ruins at the ancient city of Babylon.

Jibouri said Iraq has worked through its embassies around the world to regain stolen artifacts.

"A good number of relics are being returned," he said, in part because of rewards offered and promises not to press charges over ill-gotten goods. Artifacts have been returned from Europe, the U.K. and Peru in recent months.

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