Iraq's National Library and Archive, Caught on the Front Line of Sectarian Fighting, Is Closed

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After months of determined efforts to keep going amid Iraq's deepening violence and chaos, the National Library and Archive, the country's largest depository of books and documents, has closed.

Saad Bashir Eskander, the library's director-general, said in an e-mail message to The Chronicle on Wednesday that he had reluctantly decided to shutter the institution on November 21 after several staff members were killed and the building had increasingly come under fire.

The institution and its collections were heavily damaged when the library was twice looted and burned shortly after the American-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The national library was only one of many institutions -- including libraries, museums, universities, and hospitals -- that were plundered in the lawlessness that followed the invasion.

But after being gradually repaired, the National Library and Archive, which is known as the NLA, had become a haven for students and scholars in Baghdad, the capital.

The library, on Rashid Street, is a modern three-story structure with four wings built around a central courtyard. Unfortunately for the institution, it is located on the front line of battles between Shiite and Sunni militias, which have escalated in recent months.

"On many occasions, the NLA was hit directly," Mr. Eskander wrote on Wednesday. "Windows were smashed. My staff are naturally frightened."

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