BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- The U.S. government has announced a $13 million grant mainly to help refurbish Iraq's National Museum which was looted in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, U.S. officials have said.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Goli Ameri announced the project at a news conference with Iraqi officials held inside the dilapidated museum building, which is still closed to the public.
Iraq's archaeological heritage is among the richest in the world, including treasures from thousands of years of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia, much of it housed at the National Museum in Baghdad.
U.S. forces came under widespread criticism in the immediate aftermath of the invasion for failing to prevent the looting of priceless relics from the museum, even while troops were dispatched to secure other sites such as the Oil Ministry.
"This is an investment not only in Iraq's heritage but in the world's heritage," the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said. The money will be used for archaeology and museum training projects as well as the restoration of the museum.
More than 15,000 artifacts disappeared from the museum during the looting, about 6,000 of which have been returned.
Violence in Iraq has fallen to four-year lows and other cultural attractions are reopening, but the museum is still awaiting refurbishment before it can reopen to the public. U.S. and Iraqi officials offered no timetable to reopen it.