Iraq seeks return from U.S. of Jewish archives
BAGHDAD–Iraqi authorities have asked the United States for the return of the historic Iraqi Jewish Archive after it was brought to the United States in the wake of the 2003 war.
The ‘Canadian Press’ reports that Iraqi officials were planning to go to the US possibly next month to assess the materials found by American troops and ask for their return to Iraq
Some Jewish authorities are skeptical about the plans, arguing that since there are hardly any Jews left in Iraq the archives no longer belong there. However, Saad Eskander, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archives, told the news agency that the documents were part of a larger effort to rescue Iraq’s cultural history lost during the invasion and to put Iraqis on a tentative path to coming to grips with their past.
The archive was found in May 2003, when US troops looking for weapons of mass destruction got a tip to check out the basement of a building of dictator Saddam Hussein’s secret police. Passing a one-ton unexploded bomb on their way into the building, they found the papers and books in a flooded basement. “It was really quite disgusting, to be honest, because it was about chest-deep sewage water,” Richard Gonzales, the army officer who led the team, told the ‘Canadian Press’.
The archive contains photos, parchments and cases to hold Torah scrolls, a religious book published in 1568 as well as other ancient books in Arabic and English.
Iraq was once home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the Middle East, which dated back to the sixth century BC. Abraham is believed to have come from the city of Ur, and despite periods of persecution, the community endured and thrived over centuries. During the 1950s and 1960s, Iraqi Jews were fleeing the country, and those who remained were harassed, too frightened to hold services, and their assets were seized. In 1969, after Saddam’s Baath party took power, many Jews were executed, and the secret police confiscated many books and other archival material from the community.
Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress