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Groups urge U.S. not to return Jewish artifacts to Iraq

Published: Updated:

More than 40 Jewish organizations urged Washington on Tuesday not to return a trove of Jewish artifacts back to Iraq, a newspaper reported.

The artifacts were discovered by U.S. troops in the basement of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters, after they toppled his Baathist government in 2003.

“We are deeply troubled by the prospect that at the end of this long journey the U.S. government plans to return all of these items to Iraq,” The Times of Israel quoted the U.S.-based NGO Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and 41 other groups as saying in a statement.

Their joint statement, which was sent as a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and White House officials, also requested that Washington “consult with representative bodies of Iraq’s expatriate Jewish community and officials before any further decision is made.”

The statement adds to previous calls by other Jewish groups and some American lawmakers urging Washington not to hand over the artifacts to Baghdad.

Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, has previously emphasized his country’s claim to the artifacts. Faily, however, hinted that Iraq could discuss a loaning agreement with the United States to showcase the pieces.

The items were sent from Iraq to the National Archives in Washington where they were restored by experts.

On Nov. 8, the National Archives displayed 24 items - just a small sample of thousands of artifacts discovered in 2003 – in the first public showing of the pieces.

The exhibition, entitled “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage,” will last until Jan. 5, 2014.