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What are the Iraqi Jewish Archives?

Believe it or not, Iraq once had a thriving Jewish population. Persecution occurred off and on over the centuries but it intensified when Israel became a nation in 1948.Persecution reached its height in the years surrounding the Six Day War of 1967 by which Israel gained control of Jerusalem. Most Jews fled Iraq after suffering confiscation of their property and a whole range of persecutions. Left behind was a treasure of plundered Jewish artifacts, with some items dating back hundreds of years. Precious items of antiquity such as a Babylonian Talmud from 1793, Torah scroll fragments, personal records, and a Hebrew Bible from 1568. These were all looted from Jewish People and from synagogues during the persecutions.

How did the U.S. acquire them?

In 2003 the collection of historic Jewish documents known as the Iraqi Jewish Archives was discovered by Coalition forces searching a flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. They quickly realized the historic value of the neglected and damaged items and contacted the US National Archive. The US government agreed to restore and preserve what they could of the collection. At great expense they have completed their work and the archive is on display at the National Archive.

What’s all the concern about the Iraqi Jewish Archives?

One tragedy was averted by saving these archives of Jewish history but another is on the horizon. The US government agreed back in 2003 to return them to Iraq when the restoration project was complete. Their return is scheduled for June of 2014. The concern is that there are only a handful of Jews left living in Iraq and it is not fitting to return such precious, historical artifacts of Jewish history to the country that, 1.) confiscated them from their rightful owners through a persecution that caused the Jewish citizens to flee to safety, and 2.) continues to despise the Jewish People, does not recognize Israel as a nation, and continues to persecute the few Jews left in Iraq. Can we expect Iraq to honor the valuable historic archive of a people they hate?  We want to see the archives returned to their rightful owners.

Why did the US salvage and restore the archives?

The Coalition forces who discovered the archives realized they were historic treasures. They contacted the US National Archives who saw the tremendous value of the collection as insight into a 2,500 year old Jewish community, its culture, plight, and story.

What’s going to happen to these historical Jewish documents and archives?

The US has finished its preservation and now the archives are scheduled for return to the government of Iraq in June 2014, according to the agreement made when the project was undertaken. What will happen to them if they return to Iraq is unknown. It’s hard to imagine that a country that hates Jewish People would take proper care of Jewish historical artifacts. Speculation leads one to wonder if the archives will be stored away to once again be hidden and neglected or if, worse, they may be used as bargaining chips in some future demands of Israel.

How did Jewish People come to live in Iraq, an Arab nation that is an enemy of Israel?

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, the history of Jewish People in Iraq goes all the way back to the attack of Assyria on the northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C. The Iraqi Jewish People endured many centuries of Muslim rule, experiencing varying degrees of difficulty and success as a community. When the British took over Iraq things became somewhat better but after they left, terrible persecution of Jews ensued. The British returned which once again allowed the Jews there to become a thriving community until 1947 when the land known as Palestine was divided and Israel fought to become a nation. Though Jews were permitted to leave Iraq, often they had to leave all their possessions which were confiscated by the Iraqi government. The greatest persecution came in 1968 with staged trials, tortures, and executions. Life was extremely difficult for those who remained and pressure from the world community resulted in Iraq allowing most of them to leave. The Jewish population reached its height in 1948 with approximately 150,000 Jews living in Iraq.

When did most of the Jews leave Iraq?

From 1949 – 1951 over 100,000 Jewish People were airlifted from Iraq in Operations Ezra and Nehemiah (named after the biblical leaders who took their people back to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity). Another 20,000 were smuggled out through Iran. In 1952 Iraq banned Jews from emigrating out of Iraq. In the early 1970s Iraq was influenced by world pressure and allowed most of the remaining Jews to leave. Restrictions remained in place on those who did not leave and they were forced to turn over ownership of over $200 million worth of property.

Where did the Iraqi Jews go when they fled Iraq?

About 120,000 of them went to Israel but some went to other countries, including the United States.

Are there any Jewish People still living in Iraq?

Yes, but very few.  In 2004, approximately 35 Jews still lived in the capitol city of Baghdad but by 2008 that number was reduced to a mere ten. In an article dated November 2011, the UK’s Daily Mail reported there were only seven Jews still living in Baghdad and because of the release of their names they lived in fear for their lives. Most of them are simply too old to leave now and one can only imagine what their lives are like.

Shouldn’t these valuable documents be returned to the Jewish People from whom they were confiscated?

Yes. It really makes no sense to return the Jewish archives to Iraq, the nation who stole them from their Jewish citizens.  So few Jews remain in Iraq and those living there continue to face persecution from a nation of Arabs who want to see the annihilation of Israel. Also, one has to wonder what Iraq will do with the archives if they are returned. Can we expect them to honor the valuable historic archive of a people they hate?

If they can’t be returned to their original owners, shouldn’t they be returned to the nation of Israel?

Yes! That’s where most Iraqi Jews emigrated after leaving Iraq. With so few Jews remaining in Iraq (who still live with fear of persecution), it makes sense to send the artifacts of the once thriving Iraqi Jewish community to Israel where the vast majority of them settled.

What will happen to the archives if they are returned to Iraq as planned?

We don’t’ know, but it is hard to imagine that a country who refuses to recognize Israel and continues to show hatred to Jewish People would handle the treasures of Jewish history with any respect.

What can I do to help?

1. Pray

with us that God would give this initiative favor and that the right thing will be done. The world will be watching what our government does in this matter, if they will honor Israel or not. God has promised to bless those that bless Israel and curse those that curse her (Genesis 12:3). We hope the United States will do the right thing in this matter.

2.  Sign the petition

at We are trying to get ONE MILLION signatures to submit to the US government persuading them that it’s not right to return the Iraqi Jewish Archives to Iraq.

3. Spread the word!

Share the website on Facebook, Twitter and your other social media accounts.

4. Give.

Your donations will help us spread the word! This project is not something we had budgeted for, but we simply cannot sit back and be silent about such an important matter.

Where can I see pictures of the artifacts?

Where can I go to learn more about this?

Jewish Voice’s website:

National Archives website:

Sources:, Wikipedia,, the National Archive

Help us get to 25,000
3,120/25,000 Signatures