Liwaa Sumaisem, the Iraqi tourism and archaeology minister, told the news agency Agence France-Presse in late June that he will refuse to co-operate with Iraq-based US archaeological delegations until Jewish archives removed from Baghdad in 2003 by US forces are returned.
The archives, which were discovered in the flooded basement of Iraqi intelligence headquarters, include Torah scrolls and Jewish law volumes. Iraq had a large Jewish community until 1948, when most Iraqi Jews left for the newly created state of Israel.
The decision by the Iraqi government to cut ties with the US authorities on all archaeological projects will not, however, jeopardise key conservation projects in Iraq led by the World Monuments Fund.
Lisa Ackerman, the executive vice-president of the fund, says that its conservation project at the 4,000-year-old city of Babylon, partly funded by the US government, is not under threat. “We’ve continued to work through the ambiguous situation,” she says.
The fund’s project at Babylon, 80km south of Baghdad, involves repairing the damage caused by military interventions following the 2003 US-led invasion. Accommodating tourists and dealing with 20th-century constructions on the site, such as a palace built by the late dictator Saddam Hussein on a hill overlooking the ancient city, are also priorities.
“In 2012, our project team has continued to work on the finalisation of a site-management plan for Babylon and has continued work on site to conserve the Inner City Wall and Nabu-sha-Khare Temple,” Ackerman says.
A spokesman for the US embassy reportedly said that the US Department of State is funding an exhibition of the Jewish archives, which will be shown in the US and Iraq. The embassy in Baghdad declined to comment.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Iraq cuts ties with US archaeologists'