Iraqi Jewish Archive to go on the road in the United States

After the U.S. Army rescued a trove of Jewish artifacts from the basement of Saddam Hussein's secret police headquarters, many American descendants of Iraq's once vibrant Jewish community wondered if the U.S. would return these artifacts to war-torn Iraq.

The answer was yes. Over the objections of many Jews whose families came from Iraq, the U.S. had agreed that the "Iraqi Jewish Archive," painstakingly restored in a laboratory outside Washington, D.C., would return to Iraq in the summer of 2014.

But summer 2014 is over, and the archive, as of press time, remains in the U.S. Now a new plan will delay at least some of the collection's journey back to Baghdad, where it had been discovered -- moldy and disintegrating -- in the flooded basement of Hussein's intelligence headquarters.

The State Department said archive highlights -- exhibited in Washington and New York this year and last -- will soon embark on a tour of several more American cities.

Some see this extension -- at a time when much of Iraq is in chaos -- as an opportunity to revisit the question of the archive's destiny. They want its Torah fragments, documents and photographs, dating from the mid-16th century to the 1970s, housed permanently among Jewish communities capable of caring for them.

Today less than a handful of Jews live in Iraq, descendants of a 2,600-year-old civilization founded by exiled Israelites in what was then called Babylonia. In 1900, Jews composed a quarter of Baghdad's population. But most fled in subsequent decades.

The State Department sought to reassure those concerned about the archive that the Iraqi National Library and Archive has the desire and capacity to care for it and that the department has set aside money to train two Iraqi scholars in advanced preservations and exhibition techniques.

In May, Washington's Iraqi Embassy reiterated its eagerness to have the archive back.

Some parts of the archive are slated to return to Iraq as originally planned, according to the State Department and the Iraqi Embassy. Timing is unclear.

The archive remains in the custody of the federal agency that restored it: the National Archives and Records Administration, which, according to the State Department, will consult with Iraqi officials and the World Organization of Jews from Iraq to determine when various parts of the archive will go back to Iraq.

The State Department said details of the archive's U.S. tour are "still being determined."

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