Archive: Let the tug-of-war begin

 Documents rescued from the flooded basement of the secret police headquarters drying in the sun



Both sides have staked their claims: let the tug-of-war for the Iraqi-Jewish archive begin. Buried towards the article’s end: the US state department has noted the loud opposition of the Iraq-Jewish diaspora to the return of the archive to Baghdad. It will be talking to the Iraqis about ‘longer-term loans’. Reuters reports: (with thanks: Edwin)

A National Archives spokeswoman said
the materials, whose removal from Baghdad was agreed in 2003 – when a
U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam and the country lurched into widespread
sectarian turmoil – would be going back to Iraq and the decision was
made by the U.S. State Department.

Members
of Iraq’s Jewish community, many of whom fled the country in previous
decades, say the materials were forcibly taken from them and should not
be returned.

Edwin Shuker,
58, who escaped to Britain with his family from Baghdad in 1971, said
he had discovered his long-abandoned school certificate on display as
part of the National Archives exhibition.

“This
is more than a school certificate – it is the identity we were forced
to leave behind,” he told Reuters, likening the document’s journey and
survival to his own.

“I would like to be reassured that my children and future generations will have unrestricted access to this collection.”

Cynthia
Kaplan Shamash, from the New York-based World Organisation of Jews from
Iraq, said Iraqi Jews were grateful for the restoration but did not
want the archive to go back. “Returning the collection to a Jewish-free
Iraq in the current conditions is incomprehensible and unacceptable,”
she said.

Shuker said: “It
is not a sectarian issue. Nothing is safe, no shrine or holy place let
alone a site where Jewish artefacts are stored. There is a complete
breakdown in safety and security in Iraq now.”

Sectarian-motivated bombings and shooting attacks by Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim militants continue almost daily today.

Ali
al-Moussawi, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said
procedures for the archives’ return from the United States were “in full
swing”.

“They have
agreed to hand over these documents to the Iraqi side and currently
there is no problem, despite attempts by the Jewish community in America
to obstruct this matter,” he said.

“The
Iraqi government will not accept to give up any part of these
documents. This is Iraqi legacy owned by all of the Iraqi people and
belongs to all the generations, regardless of religious, ethnic or
sectarian affiliations.”

Iraqi
Jews have mobilised support from members of the U.S. Congress to try to
block the return. In a letter signed this month by nearly 50 U.S. lawmakers, Secretary of State John Kerry was urged to enable the return
of the items “to their rightful owners or their descendants” instead.

“The government of Iraq has no legitimate claim to these artefacts,” the letter said.

Iraq’s
Jewish community numbered around 150,000 in 1947 and has dwindled to
just a handful today. Jewish communities in the Middle East stretch back
over 2,500 years but anti-Jewish violence, fanned by Arab nationalism,
started to sweep through the region in the early 1940s, gradually
driving out most Jews.

Conditions
deteriorated for Jews in many Arab countries after the establishment of
Israel in 1948 and an Israeli-Arab war in which hundreds of thousands
of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes.

The
State Department has said it has made a commitment to return the
archive. It has paid for Iraqi archivists to train in Washington to make
sure that the pieces are preserved and protected, Brett McGurk, Deputy
Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran, told a hearing earlier this month.

U.S.
authorities are expected to talk to the Iraqi ambassador in Washington
about the possibility of longer-term loans in the United States to make
sure that people can view the pieces, he added.

“We
have heard very loudly and clearly the concerns from the community,
We’ve listened to those. We’ve taken them to heart. And we’ll see what
we can do.”

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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