Senior Jewish figures are backing an international campaign to prevent the return of religious artefacts to Iraq.
A collection of sermons from the 17th-century, a 1902 Haggada, a 400-year-old Bible, and Torah scrolls were among thousands of artefacts discovered by United States officials after raiding Saddam Hussain’s intelligence office in May 2003.
But the US’s promise to return what has been dubbed the “Iraqi Jewish Archive” by June 2014 has sparked an international row.
Harold Rhode, who worked as an analyst for the Pentagon for 28 years, is incensed by the decision after he risked his life to recover the artefacts from Saddam’s secret police.
The 63-year-old said: “It’s a mistake. It’s like the police who come up with something and then decide to give it back to the thief.
“The artefacts do not belong to the Iraqi authorities who stole it from the Jewish community, who had lived there for over 2,500 years.”
He recalled the moment the artefacts were discovered in the police’s headquarters. “The whole place was bombed and the Jewish and Israeli collections were immersed in water and totally damaged,” he said.
Iraqi Jew Edwin Shuker, vice president of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), said his organisation would “continue to support all efforts to return these Jewish heritage artefacts to their rightful owners – the Iraqi Jewish community.”
A petition urges the US government to reconsider its position has been signed by over 1,700 people.