BAGHDAD — Iraq on Sunday accused its neighbours of stealing vast sections of its national archives, including documents dating back centuries, after the 2003 US-led invasion of the country.
Some 60 percent of the archives, amounting to tens of millions of documents, were missing or had been damaged and destroyed as a result of water leaks and a fire at a storage centre in Bab al-Muatham in Baghdad's old quarter.
"Historic documents to do with Iraq's relations with its neighbours have been taken -- they were either bought from smugglers, or recovered them from various political factions," National Archives director Saad Iskander said.
"We are not making assumptions, because we have evidence that these documents were taken to these countries," he told AFP.
"They include maps, documents and official agreements over oil, borders and the question of water flow and rivers. Neighbouring countries made sure to take them from us as quickly as possible."
Iskander added documents related to the activities of movements based in Iraq who were opposed to regimes in neighbouring countries such as Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia were also stolen.
Baghdad would, however, negotiate with the United States next year for the return of around 10 million documents, including those related to the Iraqi Jewish community, he said.
"For the moment, the situation is unstable and the government (of Iraq) is at the end of its term," Iskander said, referring to legislative elections due in January. "We will begin negotiating at the beginning of next year for the return of the Jewish archives."
Though Iraq was home to a large Jewish community in ancient times, they left en masse after the creation of the state of Israel and the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
In July 2008, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki formed a working group charged with investigating the theft of around 300 rare Jewish books that were recovered in Israel.
The books had been damaged by American bombing during the 2003 invasion and were sent to the United States for restoration, with the approval of the Iraqi government.
Many of them went missing en route, however, and ended up in Israel.
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