Baghdad, Iraq – The United States has agreed to return millions of documents to Iraq, including Baghdad’s Jewish archives, that were seized by the US military after the 2003 invasion, a minister said on Thursday.
The documents, which fill 48,000 containers, are currently being held by the US State Department, the National Archives and the Hoover Institute, a think-tank.
“We have reached an agreement with the United States, after negotiations with officials at the State Department and the Pentagon, over the return of the Jewish archives and millions of documents that were taken to America after the events of 2003,” Deputy Culture Minister Taher Hamud said.
“The Jewish archives are important to us — like the rest of the documents, it is a part of our culture and sheds light on the lives of the Jewish community,” he told a news conference.
Iraq was home to a large Jewish community in ancient times but its members left en masse after the creation of Israel and the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
“Despite logistical, technical and political obstacles, we took the first step along the path to the return of the archives,” Hamud said.
Iraqi National Archives director Saad Iskander told AFP in October that some 60 percent of the archives, amounting to tens of millions of documents, were missing or had been damaged or destroyed as a result of water leaks and a fire at a storage centre in the aftermath of the invasion.
Iskander added at Thursday’s news conference that in addition to the Jewish archive many of the documents related to executed dictator Saddam Hussein and his banned Baath Party.
“There is a special archive about the Baath Party that was moved to the United States,” he said.
“The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and the Pentagon studied it to find a relationship between Saddam and Al-Qaeda, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and human rights violations.”
Mohsen Hassan Ali, the culture ministry’s associate museums director, said US forces had found damaged and water-logged documents in the basement of government buildings following the 2003 war.
“Despite our refusal, the containers were sent to the United States,” Ali said.