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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Google is putting thousands of images of ancient artefacts at Iraq's National Museum online, the Web search leader said on Tuesday, part of a U.S. bid to entice foreign firms to invest in Iraq.
What is now modern-day Iraq was once known as Mesopotamia a region considered by many as the "cradle of civilisation." The museum houses one of the finest Mesopotamian collections in the world.
But its millennia-old artefacts from Babylonian, Assyrian and Sumerian cultures, as well as Iraq's more recent history, have been largely closed to public view since the invasion due to security concerns and for renovation.
"The Iraqi museum is closed and people from all around the world are asking questions about it. Now they can know more as they sit in their homes," museum director Amira Eidan told Reuters.
Google employees have taken more than 14,000 pictures of the antiquities and aim to put them online in early 2010.
"I can think of no better use of our time and our resources to make the images and ideas from your civilization, from the very beginning of time, available to a billion people worldwide," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said at a news conference at the Baghdad museum.
"Most American companies are not yet operating in Iraq, and we would like to show that it's possible to do business in Iraq, that Iraq is an important market that will grow quickly, that it's sufficiently stable," he added.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill, said: "I believe that having someone of the stature of Eric Schmidt here to discuss technological cooperation ... with this museum is a positive sign for the people of Iraq that this process (of investment) is beginning."
The museum's Nimrud treasures, a collection of gold jewellery excavated in northern Iraq, are considered one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century and there had been fears they might have disappeared in the post-invasion chaos.
The National Museum fell prey to widespread looting after invading U.S. troops failed to protect it when they took Baghdad more than six years ago. Around 6,000 of the 15,000 items stolen have since been returned, Iraqi officials said.
Editing by Mohammed Abbas and Robin Pomeroy