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State Dept. seeking ways to keep access open to Iraqi Jewish Archive

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. State Department is seeking avenues to make the Iraqi Jewish Archive continually accessible to Iraqi Jews living outside the country.

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 statement sent to JTA on Monday by the State Department’s press office said the “sensitivities” surrounding the archive were spurring the department to seek alternatives.

“While we remain committed to the terms of the 2003 agreement, 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,” said the statement, the result of repeated JTA queries to the department.

“We will continue to engage involved parties to explore possibilities on this issue,” the statement said.

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 it easily available.

“We are grateful that we’ve been able to discuss this important matter with senior officials at the State Department and that they have understood our concerns,” Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, said in response to the news. “We are hopeful that we can work with them and other stakeholders to resolve the fate of the Iraqi Jewish Archive appropriately.”

Other groups advocating for keeping the archive accessible include the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and Justice for Jews from Arab Countries.

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 had governed 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.

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