The waterlogged basement of the Baghdad secret police HQ where the Iraqi-Jewish archive was found in 2003 (photo: courtesy Harold Rhode)
A deal between the US State department and the Iraqi government appears to have been struck to keep the Iraqi-Jewish archive in the US, the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI) has announced.
The archive, as the collection of 2,700 restored Jewish books and thousands of documents is known, is due to return to Iraq after the 'Discovery and Recovery' exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York closes this week.
Although the exact terms of the agreement are yet to be confirmed, the vast majority of the material that constitutes the Iraqi Jewish Archive will remain in the US for an unspecified period. It is thought that the extension will be for two years.
The agreement comes after a firestorm of media controversy in the US and Canada, documented on Point of No Return. A resolution calling for the original agreement to return the archive to be re-negotiated was approved by the US Senate and a second resolution is awaiting a vote in the House.
Some duplicate Jewish books (such as the Aleph Bet primer, with more than 60 copies in the IJA collection) will be returned, as well as all the non-Jewish books and documents originally found with the IJA material in the basement of the secret police headquarters. WOJI says that these never belonged to Iraq’s Jewish Community in the first place, but were part of the Palestinian-Israeli Unit of the Iraqi intelligence HQ.
However, a statement released by the Iraqi embassy in Washington gives the impression that all the material except for the 24 items belonging to the 'Discovery and Recovery' exhibit will be returned. This statement might have been phrased for home consumption.
WOJI is reassuring its members that no duplicates will be returned if they have any kind of annotation written on any page. Such 'annotated' books have already been digitized. "We will work with the National Archives to identify duplicate items which can go back without controversy," Maurice Shohet, WOJI's chairman, has declared.
The UK Telegraph has been one of the first media off the mark to report that a deal has been agreed. Article by Raf Sanchez (with thanks: Lily):
"But more than ten years later, after thousands of American deaths and amid
frayed ties between Baghdad and Washington, the US is no longer so sure
about returning historical documents it spent $3 million (£1.8 million)
Earlier this year the US Senate, in a rare moment of unanimity, passed a
resolution calling on the Obama administration to renegotiate the agreement
with the Iraqis.
"The senators argue that the archive belongs first and foremost to the
descendants of the exiled Iraqi Jews, the vast majority of whom now live in
Israel. Like most Arab nations, Iraq does not recognise Israel and it would
be virtually impossible for those descendants to travel to Baghdad.
“This is a group of people that have had so much of their history taken away
or destroyed over the years, and under no circumstances should these
artifacts be handed back to Iraq,” said Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat
and the most prominent of the Senate’s ten Jewish members."
Read article in full
New deal keeps archive in US (Jewish Chronicle )