Iraq to the United States: Give us back our Torahs and Talmuds

Baghdad officials claim the US took away thousands of ancient Babylonian artifacts in 2006

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Israelis dance with the Torah scroll during Simchat Torah celebrations in Beitar Illit in 2009. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israelis dance with the Torah scroll during Simchat Torah celebrations in Beitar Illit in 2009. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The United States has taken hold of 90 percent of Iraq’s national archives, and is refusing to return thousands of precious Jewish documents and manuscripts, Iraqi government officials are claiming.

According to Iraq’s Ministry of Culture, in 2006, American authorities received some 3,000 ancient documents and 1,700 artifacts dating back to the Babylonian era through an agreement with Iraq’s Antiquities Authority for the purpose of restoration. However, the officials now say, the US is still “holding the artifacts prisoner” in what they term “a cultural Guantanamo.”

The officials told the Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya this week that the artifacts include the oldest manuscript of the Talmud, the cornerstone of Jewish oral law compiled in Babylon in the sixth century CE, as well as the oldest manuscript of the Torah.

Unnamed sources claimed to Al-Arabiya that Israel is behind the “theft,” as it stands to gain the most by the confiscation of the artifacts, which were stored in Iraq’s Central Intelligence building for their historic value. Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmad bin Helli recently accused Israel of involvement in what he dubbed “the largest act of plundering and theft of Iraq’s historic documents and treasures,” the station reported.

Saad Bashir Iskandar, director general of the books and documents department of the Iraqi ministry, said the Americans insisted on removing the artifacts from Iraq. The items were stored in no less than 48,000 boxes and containers, he said.

“Our ongoing negotiations with the Americans always run up against barriers of procrastination,” Taher Hamoud, director general of the Culture Ministry told Al-Arabiya. He added that the documents contained within the archive in question are 70% in Hebrew, 25% in Arabic and 5% in other languages.

A spokeswoman for Israel’s Antiquities Authority told The Times of Israel she had no information on the Iraqi allegations.

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