Baghdad Better but Audiences Still Avoid Theaters

"We are given the task of preserving the fragments of Iraq's ancient heritage," Eskander said, pointing with modest pride to freshly painted walls and renovated floors at the archive building. An ethnic Kurd who was born in Baghdad, Eskander earned a doctorate in Britain. He was among a small group of Iraqi expatriates who streamed into Baghdad to help rebuild after the U.S.-led invasion.

"It's been a difficult and long process but an important one for Iraq," he said.

The American military, the Iraqi government and aid organizations are making efforts to renovate Baghdad's cultural arteries. The Baghdad Museum Project, a nonprofit organization working to establish a comprehensive online catalog of all cultural artifacts in the National Museum's collection, is spearheading fundraising efforts to help many locations.

Federal programs aimed at funding museum and theater renovations are slowly taking hold after months of legislative limbo. Artists who fled the country during Saddam's reign have pledged to return as better security takes hold. And to add beauty to blighted areas, the city hired two dozen Iraqi artists to paint colorful murals on blast walls, those 12-foot-high concrete slabs that snake along the city's streets and roads.

Still, some here are frustrated by the slow pace of progress.

"Iraqi politicians come from a culture of doing nothing so they move very slowly in helping," said Eskander. "They [are] not [accustomed] to investing in our cultural future so things will move slowly for a long time."

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