The Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) have released a joint statement calling for the return of five sets of records seized from Iraq during both Gulf conflicts and now in various US locations. They are (from the statement):

Records seized by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies during the Second Gulf War. The U.S. military and intelligence agencies seized millions of pages of Iraqi records during the military campaign. The U.S. military scanned some, if not all, of the seized records. The major issue with these records is to what institution in Iraq the originals will be returned – and when. As reported by John Gravois in the Chronicle of Higher Education (February 8, 2008), the Iraq National Library and Archives and the Iraq Memory Foundation each have made public claims of ownership of these records. For records of the Iraqi government, including the Baath Party records as an arm of the state, the archival principle of inalienability requires that they be returned to the national government of Iraq for preservation in the national archives.

Records seized from non-governmental combatants. In the fall of 2007 the U.S. military seized a quantity of records in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar from an al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq. The quantity of records seized is not known, nor is the records’ current location – although at least a portion were scanned and provided to the Army’s Center for Combating Terrorism at West Point, where an analysis was published based on the records. These records were never records of the Iraqi government. Returning them to the creator or its successors clearly is not plausible. A strong case can be made for sending these to the Iraqi government for deposit in the National Archives, as part of the national patrimony of Iraq.

Records obtained by the Iraq Memory Foundation. The Iraq Memory Foundation, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization (NGO), went to Baghdad shortly after the invasion and began gathering as many documents as it could find. Under the laws of war, such actions may be considered an act of pillage, which is specifically forbidden by the 1907 Hague Convention. The Foundation’s website says its main holdings are “a collection of 2.4 million pages of official Iraqi documents captured by Iraqi Kurdish groups during the 1991 uprising; …a collection of 750,000 pages of Iraqi documents captured in Kuwait after its liberation…in 1991; …approximately 3.0 million pages gathered from Baath Party Regional Command Headquarters in Baghdad following the fall of Saddam in 2003.” This is the body of materials that in January 2008 the Hoover Institution at Stanford University agreed to store. The records of the government bodies and the Baath Party should be returned to the government of Iraq to be maintained as part of the official records in the National Library and Archives.

Records seized by Kurds during the First Gulf War. During the First Gulf War, Kurdish groups seized an estimated eighteen tons of Iraqi records in northern Iraq. These included the records of the Iraqi secret police in the three northern Kurdish governates of Iraq, records of the Baath Party from the region, and records of local and regional governments. These records have been digitized by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. The United States government should appeal to the government of Kurdistan to return this material to the Iraqi government’s National Library and Archives.

Iraqi Jewish archives. In May 2003, the U.S. Army discovered a body of Jewish documents in the basement of the Iraqi Security Services. The materials had been damaged by flooding and mold. Ultimately the materials were flown to the U.S. by the military, freeze dried at a facility in Texas, and then transferred to the U.S. National Archives where they remain, pending conservation and possible digitization. The U.S. has signed an agreement to return this archives to Iraq. The documentary evidence of the historic Iraqi Jewish community is part of the archival patrimony of Iraq. We urge the government to repatriate the records to Iraq as soon as practicable.

posted by Grace Lile

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