Iraqi Files in U.S.: Plunder or Rescue?





In the early days after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Kanan Makiya, a scholar and Iraqi exile based in the United States, stumbled upon a potent trove of documents in Baghdad: Baath Party records reflecting the degrees of loyalty of some two million ordinary Iraqis to Saddam Hussein’s regime during its final years in power.

Mr. Makiya, who had been writing about Mr. Hussein’s abuses for many years, immediately recognized the value of the archive to Iraqi cultural memory — and its potential for misuse during the country’s volatile transition. “This was not stuff for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to have access to,” he said in a recent interview. “This stuff was dynamite.”

Shortly afterward the Iraq Memory Foundation, a private organization in Washington and Baghdad founded by Mr. Makiya, assumed custody of the sensitive archive, and last January it made a five-year deal with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University to provide a safe haven for it.

To some Iraqi officials and American archivists, however, all this has been less a courageous rescue operation than a blatant case of plunder. In recent weeks the dispute has become increasingly public, with Saad Eskander, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archive in Baghdad, and Akram al-Hakim, Iraq’s acting minister of culture who also holds the title state minister for national dialogue, asserting that the documents were unlawfully seized and calling for their immediate return. In an open letter to the Hoover Institution on June 21 Mr. Eskander wrote that its arrangement with the Iraq Memory Foundation was “incontrovertibly illegal.” Mr. Makiya says that the archive totals more than five million pages.


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