In March 2004, the GCI and the World Monuments Fund (WMF) signed an agreement with the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) to establish the GCI-WMF Iraq Cultural Heritage Conservation Initiative. The objective of the initiative is to address the catastrophic damage sustained by Iraq's cultural heritage during and in the aftermath of the 2003 war.
Working in collaboration with the Iraqi Ministry of Culture and SBAH, and coordinating with UNESCO, the initiative will mobilize international resources and attention in support of the Iraqi cultural authorities and their objectives: the cessation of threats to and repair of damage sustained by Iraq's cultural heritage, and the rebuilding of the country's professional conservation and heritage-management capacity.
In its work, the initiative—begun with lead funding from the J. M. Kaplan Fund—is collaborating with Iraqi officials and colleagues and is coordinating its own efforts with those of Iraqi museums and other cultural institutions. Two emergency grants have been awarded by the initiative for site protection—one to the Massachusetts College of Art, for the reinstallation of protective roofing over the archaeological site at Nineveh, which was looted during the recent war; and another to the American Association for Research in Baghdad, for the protection of archaeological sites in central Iraq, which are being actively looted by local villagers.
The GCI and WMF are currently refining a method for the rapid assessment of the significance, condition, and management capabilities of Iraqi archaeological and historic architectural sites. The information that will be collected through this assessment process will become part of the Iraq Cultural Heritage Sites Geographic Information System (GIS) Database—being developed by the WMF and the GCI in partnership with the sbah—that will be used to document site conditions and needs, to set priorities, and to address threats to cultural resources.
The system uses GIS and global positioning system (GPS) technologies to provide the SBAH with appropriate monitoring and assessment tools to evaluate risk to, and to minimize negative impact on, cultural resources. The U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, UNESCO, and Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (the leading developer of GIS software), are providing support for the development of this database, for the purchase of related hardware and software, and for a program for SBAH staff, which will include training in the field application of the site assessment methodology and in the use of the database.