WASHINGTON (JTA) — An Iraqi delegation pressed the State Department for the return of Jewish artifacts currently stored in the United States.
A high-level Iraqi delegation led by Deputy Culture Minister Taher al-Humoud met with U.S. State Department officials last week to press for the return of Jewish artifacts found by U.S. soldiers in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s secret police headquarters during the Iraq War, the Washington Post reported.
The 3,500 artifacts include marriage licenses, Torah scrolls and Haggadahs that were transported to the United States, where they have been stabilized but not fully restored. A vague promise was made to return the materials, which are being stored in College Park, Md., once they were stabilized.
The State Department does not challenge Iraq’s claims to the documents.
“They represent part of our history and part of our identity," Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraq’s U.S. ambassador, told the Washington Post. "There was a Jewish community in Iraq for 2,500 years.”
Opponents, however, say that the documents belong to the Jews who fled Iraq and their descendants.
Harold Rohde, a former U.S. Defense Department official, told the Jerusalem Post, “I don’t see any reason for it to go back to Iraq because if it is patrimony of the Jewish community of Iraq, then wherever they are it is theirs. When they left, they would have taken it with them had they been able to take it with them. You don’t abandon Torahs."
The National Archives and Records Administration, which is in charge of stabilizing the documents, estimated in 2003 that full preservation could cost between $1.5 million and $3 million. Sumaidaie thinks the cost could go as high as $6 million, but believes that Iraq can handle any additional restoration work.
Sumaidaie has not ruled out entertaining individual claims to the documents and vowed to make the artifacts available to researchers.