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Outrage: U.S. Returning Artifacts Looted from Iraqi Jews to Iraq, Instead of Lawful Owners

Like returning artifacts to Germany, had they never renounced Nazism. This following a heroic effort to save them by Dick Cheney, Natan Sharansky, Richard Perle, and me, among others. (Sign the petition to stop the transfer here.)

by
Harold Rhode

Bio

August 26, 2013 - 12:02 am
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The National Archives is readying an exhibit of Iraqi Jewish artifacts due to open on October 11. Appallingly, the U.S. government has agreed to then return the Iraqi Jewish archives — including holy books — to Iraq, which systematically expelled its Jewish community, by June of 2014.

How did the Jewish Iraqi community — which dates to 721 B.C.E. when the Assyrians conquered Samaria and eventually deported the population to central Mesopotamia, and which was one of the two main sources of Mishnaic and Talmudic learning — lose, find, and lose again its patrimony?

The incredible story of how this unlikely turn of events came to pass has never been told in its entirety until now; I am one of the few who can tell it.

After American forces entered Baghdad in May 2003, the head of the Jewish and Israel section of Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat (intelligence agency) came to the Iraqi National Congress (INC), offering information about Saddam’s intelligence operations against Israel and Jews. He did this in order to curry favor. Former Iraqi officials frequently came to opposition groups to tell their stories, in return for which they would get “safe passage” documents stating that since they were cooperating with post-Saddam authorities, they should not be harmed.

The tipster visited the INC to talk about the rumored Jewish archives hidden in the basement of the Mukhabarat headquarters. After his visit, INC chairman Ahmed Chalabi called Judy Miller, the former New York Times reporter then embedded with a mobile unit looking for WMD, and me. I was an Arabic/Hebrew speaking policy analyst with the Office of Net Assessments in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, then assigned to the Coalition Provisional Authority, at the time.

We rushed over to talk with Chalabi, who told us that a former Mukhabarat employee reported that a huge treasure trove of Iraqi Jewish and Israeli material was amassed in the Mukhabarat building, and that he was prepared to show us where it was located. He also said there was an ancient copy of the Talmud written on leather or parchment.

Miller and I then went off to the Mukhabarat building with the former Saddam officer and an INC contingent.

The tipster indicated from outside the building where in the basement the Jewish and Israel sections were located. Then — he promptly disappeared. Despite the bombed-out structure’s instability, looters were overrunning the building. Danger was everywhere.

We were, in fact, standing beside a large metal device which had lodged itself halfway into the ground. We later learned that this live, undetonated bomb had penetrated through three or four stories of the building and destroyed the building’s water system. It had pierced the wall almost at ground level. We saw, through the hole it made, that the Jewish and Israel sections were flooded.

We went around to the building’s main entrance and descended only halfway down a basement staircase, blocked by water which had risen about halfway up. Several WMD team members waded into the water and entered the Israel section. They found pictures of the Dome of the Rock, a Soviet map of Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, and a sign in Arabic which read: “Who will be the one to send the 40th missile to Israel?” (This referred to the fact that during the Kuwait war, Iraq had sent 39 missiles toward Israel.)

The WMD team then proceeded down the hall, found the Jewish section, and carried out religious books and a tiq (the wooden/metal box which holds Torahs). These items proved to be only a tiny example of what we were to find later.

Many Iraqis with whom we spoke about the discovery told us to get the material out of the country as soon as possible before it became public knowledge. That way, Iraqi Jewry could have its patrimony, and no Iraqi politician could be held responsible for having let the Jews take the material.

But that was not so simple. Almost all of the material was under water, and whatever its long-term fate, it had to first be rescued and salvaged. We therefore needed drainage pumps so we could get to the items, and we needed manpower to take the material out, and we needed money to pay for both and had no access to either.

Chalabi volunteered to start the project. His people procured pumps and hired locals to save the books, documents, and holy articles. We started draining at night with the small pumps we had, and managed to get into the Jewish and Israel sections the next morning. But the water continued to drip down from the broken pipes in the building’s upper levels, so by early afternoon the water had risen too high and we were unable to continue our operation. This situation continued daily for the next few weeks.

Such a large operation costs money, and Chalabi’s personal generosity was stretched. We managed to secure a grant from philanthropist Harvey Krueger, an investment banker then of Lehman Brothers, who heard about the project from friends and managed to get us about $15,000 to continue the operation.

I tried to interest American officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) of which I was a member, but my pleas were not heard. The American bureaucracy back home was not helpful either, as it clearly saw this project as a nuisance. Worse, bureaucrats thought the rescue project could potentially cause them serious problems — such as the issue of provenance — with which they did not want to be bothered.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
We are referring to items taken a few years ago, not centuries.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"How did the Jewish Iraqi community — which dates to 721 B.C.E. when the Assyrians conquered Samaria and eventually deported the population to central Mesopotamia, and which was one of the two main sources of Mishnaic and Talmudic learning — lose, find, and lose again its patrimony?"

BCE. The politically correct use of CE is an outlandishly ignorant way of avoiding reference to Christ. Whether he is God or a man who taught us better than anyone how to live and thus civilized the world, the Current Era is the birth of Christ. I object to this revisionism and your use of this term makes me doubt your bona fides and dampens my support for your cause.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sad indeed. Yet not much was said or done for the looses of life and property that the Christians endured in Iraq and ARE enduring in Syria and Egypt.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (25)
All Comments   (25)
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Much energy has been expended by the Left and their tools among the Paleocons in demonizing Chalabi. Some of the charges against him may be correct but the source of the campaign against him was that he was associated with Bush Cheney and the Neocons (read Jews), who the Left were determined to discredit. The reason the Democrats are happy to see these archives returned to Baghdad and probably destroyed is because they are associated with those that Mr. Rhode praises.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
They are being returned to their rightful owners in the eyes of BHO, who would claim that these artifacts were stolen from the Iraqi Arabs by the evil, money-grubbing Jews.
So, Shut Up!
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"We were forced to roll out on the ground the Torah and other holy scrolls we had rescued — something which is normally absolutely prohibited in Jewish law "

David at the temple bread ("shewbread", in the old King James), and was not condemned, so I think you are on safe ground.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry, what are you referring to? The Shewbread is a form of thick Matza.

David's life was in danger. That overrides.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
These are the twelve loaves (lechem) set in the Temple each week as an offering that were only to be eaten by priests. -Leviticus (or in Hebrew Wayyiqra) 24: 5-9
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
The behavior of the US government is shameful. How dare we perpetrate the evils of the past by rewarding the central government of Iraq? http://coldwarwarrior.com/
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Otherwise we might have to admit that the Iraq war was a disaster.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I should also add that if we give these artifacts to Israel because once owned by Jews, that opens the door to giving the Elgin Marbles back to Greece (and every other ancient artifact not currently held by their home, um, 'nations').
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
We are referring to items taken a few years ago, not centuries.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
We are also talking about sending these items to people who will have no concern to their worth or value as apposed to sending them to someone who will care and preserve them.

Museums that preserve antiquities tend to have many stolen or looted items in them. But at least the items are preserved.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
BC and AD are still perfectly acceptable (AND REMAIN THE PREFERRED FORM!); however, the use of BCE and CE in a Jewish historical context is IMHO OK. One must respect the Wall between Judaism and Christianity.

What ticks me off however is when mindless leftists use CE and BCE for politically correct purposes.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't see why we can't recognize that the US is a Christian country, de facto, and allow the Christian form, but NOT FORCE Jews to use terminology that violates their religion. (He is not my lord, and I don't consider him the messiah.)

To put it another way, you should have right to say "Jesus Christ" and "Merry Christmas", and I should not be offended when I won't say it.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"How did the Jewish Iraqi community — which dates to 721 B.C.E. when the Assyrians conquered Samaria and eventually deported the population to central Mesopotamia, and which was one of the two main sources of Mishnaic and Talmudic learning — lose, find, and lose again its patrimony?"

BCE. The politically correct use of CE is an outlandishly ignorant way of avoiding reference to Christ. Whether he is God or a man who taught us better than anyone how to live and thus civilized the world, the Current Era is the birth of Christ. I object to this revisionism and your use of this term makes me doubt your bona fides and dampens my support for your cause.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"the Current Era is the birth of Christ"? Maybe to large numbers in the West, but certainly not to the Buddhists of the East, the Hindus of India, or the Jews. I also don't refer to "the Prophet Mohammed" as I don't recognize him as the - or even "a" - prophet.

And don't get your knickers in a bind if I tell you I don't use the terms "cross my heart" or "fingers crossed" due to their Christian origins. Yeah, it's taken on a different meaning today, to the point that I can enjoy the "Cross your heart. Cross it!" scene in "Up!". I just don't use them personally.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
OK, please listen. You can use what term you want. But the term means the "messiah", and I don't consider him the messiah. (Not capitalized on purpose, for the messiah is not divine.) SO DON'T FORCE ME TO USE IT.

So you are saying I may practice my religion as long as I accept the tenets of yours? Then freedom of religion is a joke.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
How is it it "ignorant," let alone "outlandishly ignorant"? Even you yourself just referred to what you called the "Current Era." Thou hypocrite!
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well duh! I used the term to note that it is marked by the birth of Christ. The term (whose name shall not be mentioned lest its use confuse you) is used by those who seek to lessen the influence of Christ - despite His role in civilizing mankind. It is historically ignorant.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I rather think he brought much suffering upon my people.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wonderful article.

Just so the context is clear to everyone, the Iraqi Jewish community refers to itself as "the Jews of Babylon". Yes, that old.

Also please note that Iraq is STILL in a state of war with the State of Israel.

Oh, and bless Chaney and Rumsfeld. I have long wished Chaney were President.

Finally, although I disagree strongly with the contention of the Israeli government (of which I am a citizen) that it represents the Jewish community as a whole or has some say over its property (such as Jewish cemeteries in Israel), as a practical matter the Babylonian Jewish community now lives in Israel ,and that is where the books should go.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
These Jewish artifacts should indeed go to Israel, but not to the Israeli government. Given how they treated (and lost much of) the Aleppo Codex, the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center outside of Tel Aviv is the only group it should be entrusted to.

I fear that won't happen however. The bureaucrats in DC and their political masters, in permanent appeasement (dhimmi?) mode toward Arabs and Muslims, will willingly turn this legacy over to the thieves of Baghdad. They'll get rid of a "headache" while brushing aside protests over the injustice of it all.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
They should go to the Babylonian Jewish community. If the museum is their representative, fine.

In short, I agree with you.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Washington, under the reign of Obama, has no vested interest in justice, let alone justice for the Jewish people. It is not as if Washington's power centers have ever cared about Jewish rights - the tiniest minority on earth, but no matter! - but under this current cabal, the amount of animosity defies description.

Now, if one is a Jewish leftist and Obama Inc. supporter, well, that is another situation. But if one evinces any interest/support for Jewish rights/history, well, all bets are off.

To be sure, the world has treated Jewish expulsion from Arab lands - over 800,000! - as nothing but a speck of (historical) dirt. In any case, it is up to Jewish justice seekers - many of whom are Christian - to raise the roof - http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/03/03/an-authentic-jewish-response-to-an-anti-semitic-skit-at-the-oscars-what-lessons-can-be-learned-commentary-by-adina-kutnicki/

In fact, requisite lessons can even be learned, even from those who besmirch Jews at the Oscars - of all places!

Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Why can't this decision be challenged in court, perhaps gain an injunction? That would slow down the transfer.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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