Pressure is mounting in Congress to have a collection of artifacts from Iraq’s historic Jewish community returned to its members and their descendants. The collection includes 2,700 Jewish books and thousands of documents dating back to 1540.
Last week, a resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives, following one already introduced in the Senate, urging the United States government to ensure that the archives are returned to the Jewish community rather than the Iraqi government.
The artifacts, recovered from a flooded basement in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters, were brought to America to be restored under an agreement between the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was administering Iraq at the time.
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) joined 17 other members of Congress in asking the United States to renegotiate the agreement so that the books’ preservation can be guaranteed and that the Iraqi Jewish community has access to them.
“I do not believe that we should send these priceless treasures back to the Iraqi Government,” Israel wrote in a statement to Washington Jewish Week. The resolution is necessary “so we can ensure that these artifacts remain protected, preserved and readily available to their rightful owners or their owners’ descendants.”
Nadler agreed, noting that “the fact that Iraqi Jews lost a vital piece of their history when these items were seized against their will was a grave injustice that cannot be undone, but this resolution is a step in the right direction to help improve this difficult and unfortunate situation.”