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July 18, 2012 2:22 am

Iraq Says No to U.S. Offer on Jewish Archives

avatar by Atara Arbesfeld

Members of the 7th Iraqi Army Division's Commando Battalion. Photo: US Army.

Last month, Iraq announced that it would halt archaeological cooperation with the United States until all archives that were removed during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 are returned. Now that the US has offered to return half of Iraq’s Jewish archives –  including Torah scrolls, Jewish law documents, and children’s books –  the Iraqi government has refused, according to the Iranian government owned news service, Press TV and Iraqi newspaper al-Sabah.

Nearly ten years ago when America’s war in Iraq started, the collection was discovered in Baghdad in the flooded basement of Iraqi intelligence headquarters, according to the JTA. Most of the archives are written in Hebrew, and a quarter are written in Arabic as well as other languages.

Iraq was home to a vibrant Jewish community before the founding of the State of Israel, after which most Iraqi Jews immigrated to the Jewish State in an operation known as Ezra and Nehemiah in the early 1950s.

Last month, Iraqi media reported that the treasures were transferred to Israel. “Iraq says it should stay in Iraq because that is the history,” said Edward Peck, the former US Chief of Mission in Iraq. “Israel I suppose wants the whole thing and America would probably in this case side with Israel,” he said in an interview with Press TV.

Others disagree and say the archives belong in Jewish hands. “The books belong to the majority of the Iraqi Jews, and they are not in Iraq. The books should be given to us, as the representatives of the Jews of Iraq,” Mordechai Ben-Porat told Ha’aretz. Ben-Porat was instrumental in organizing the mass airlift of Iraqi Jews to Israel.

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