U.S. moves to keep access open to Iraqi Jewish Archive

The State Department is seeking avenues to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive accessible to Iraqi Jews living outside the Iraq.

Until now, the State Department had been adamant that the archive, transferred to the United States for expert restoration, be returned to Iraq in June.

A March 17 statement by the State Department said “sensitivities” surrounding the archive were spurring the department to seek alternatives.

“While we remain committed to the terms of the 2003 agreement,” the statement said, “we are also aware of the sensitivities surrounding the return of the material and are in discussions with our Iraqi counterparts and other interested parties to find a mutually agreeable approach to ensure continued access and sharing of these documents, including the possibility of additional IJA (Iraqi Jewish Archive) exhibits in the United States.”

A number of Jewish groups have joined an array of lawmakers in Congress in demanding that the archives remain outside Iraq, in the custody of one of the major Iraqi Jewish diasporas, in Britain, Israel or the United States. They say the Iraqi government now in place is not sympathetic to Jewish interests and would not make the archive easily available.

U.S. troops uncovered the archive in the Iraqi secret service headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, much of it waterlogged.

Iraqi agents under Saddam Hussein had looted many of the articles after the dictator had driven the remnants of the Jewish community out of the country in a terror campaign.

Under an agreement with the Coalition Provisional Authority that was governing Iraq, the materials were sent to the United States where experts, led by a National Archives team, restored them.

The archive is now on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. — jta