Iraq has agreed to extend the American exhibition of Jewish artifacts that are controversially slated to return to the Middle Eastern country.
The U.S. National Archives and the New York-based Museum of Jewish Heritage had been displaying some of the 2,700 Jewish books and ancient documents that were recovered in the basement of the Iraqi intelligence ministry (Mukhabarat) during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The artifacts were set to return to Iraq in June.
Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Lukman Faily said in a statement Wednesday that Iraq “has authorized me to extend the period which the exhibit may remain in the United States.” The exhibit “has led to an increase of understanding between Iraq and United States and a greater recognition of the diverse heritage of Iraq,” he said.
“We look forward to completing the technical aspects of this extension with the Government of the United States within the coming days. Items which were among the material brought to the United States that are not part of the exhibit will return to Iraq in the very near future, as originally agreed,” said Faily.
According to an agreement the U.S. signed with Iraqi authorities in 2003, the collection-which became known as the Iraqi Jewish Archive-was pegged to return to the Iraqi government upon the completion of its restoration in America. But the Iraqi Jewish community says Saddam Hussein’s government originally confiscated the materials from a synagogue in 1984. Jewish organizations and some U.S. legislators have been lobbying to find a solution that prevents the archive from returning to Iraq.
The Orthodox Union (OU) welcomed Faily’s announcement of the exhibit’s extension, but said its work on the issue of the archive’s final destination isn’t done.
“The historical and religious value of the Iraqi Jewish Archive materials compel us to ensure that the archive should remain in the United States where it will be easily accessible to all, particularly the Iraqi Jewish community now living in diaspora around the world,” said Nathan Diament, OU’s executive director for public policy. “We will continue to advocate for an appropriate long-term solution for these materials.”
Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish affairs, said, “Extending the exhibit’s schedule and making it available to other American communities will benefit all who have interest in the history of Iraq’s Jews.”