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Iraqi Official Urges U.S. To Return Archives

BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi official has called on Washington to return national archives that were transferred to the United States after the 2003 invasion of the country, adding that Baghdad may go to the courts to get the documents back, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Deputy Culture Minister Taher Hmud said in a statement on October 17 that Iraq had used diplomatic efforts through the Foreign Ministry in the past few months to try to get Washington to return the important Iraqi documents.

Hmud told RFI that he does not know precisely how many Iraqi archives are being held in the United States but does know what they cover.

"I cannot determine the number of these documents, but I know they are in the millions or even thousands of millions," he said. "I can also tell their categories. The first one is documents transferred by the American forces to the CIA, which published some of them. As for the second category, they were transferred to the Pentagon. It also published some of them on its official website."

He added that part of the archives were given to the Iraq Memory Foundation. "Included in this category is the archive of the [former ruling] Baath Party," Hmud said.

Hmud noted that those archives are very important to Iraq and rich in information and details about the members of the Baath Party, which governed Iraq between 1968 and 2003, when Saddam Hussein was ousted.

As for the third category of the archives, it concerns the Jewish community in Iraq. Hmud said this one has created a lot of discussion both inside and outside of Iraq because of its wealth of important information.

"The Jewish archive was taken to the United States for maintenance, but the Americans did not keep their word and did not yet give this archive back to Iraq," he said.

Hmud explained how Iraq has been dealing in a "very smooth, respectful, and professional way" with U.S. officials when negotiating the return of the archives.

"We also abstained from sending a diplomatic note to the American side in respect for their will to negotiate in a practical atmosphere," he told RFI. "But now, Iraq is left with no other choice but to go to court -- whether here in Iraq or in the United States [in order to secure the return of the archives]."

Hmud said Iraq can also ask for help from specialized centers inside and outside the United States.

"The people in these centers understand our position very well. They expressed their sympathy to us many times," he said.

But Hmud also said Iraq is ready to go back to the table and negotiate in order to try and solve this problem, but only "if the Americans pledge to keep their word and promises," he said.