Fight breaks out among archivists and historians about the decision to turn over Iraqi archives to Hoover Institution

Historians in the News

A sampling of opinion:

Stan Katz (Chronicle of Higher Ed.)

I was intrigued and disappointed to read John Gravois’s article on the agreement signed by the Hoover Institution at Stanford with the Iraq Memory Foundation for the deposit at Hoover of “two shipping containers” of records created by Iraq’s Baath Party. These are apparently nearly seven million pages of government records of the party, which ruled Iraq from 1968 until our 2003 invasion of the country. The Iraq Memory Foundation, which was founded by Kanan Makiya, a prominent Iraqi refugee and currently a professor at Brandeis University, claims that it was given custody of the archive by persons in the current Iraq prime minister’s office. Makiya is quoted as saying that these records need to be kept in safekeeping, “but Baghdad is just not ready for it.” Hoover says it is acting at the request of the Iraqi government, and it will preserve this archive just as it has the records of the Soviet Communist Party and “the Chiang Kai-shek diaries. . . . This is right down our alley.” On the other hand, Saad Eskander, the director general of the Iraq National Library and Archives, contends that these records belong in his country and in his institutional care.

My friend Trudy Peterson, the former deputy and acting archivist of the United States, while acknowledging that the materials ultimately must be returned to Iraq, agrees that it may not be safe to return them now. Trudy is one of the most accomplished archivists I know, and she is without peer on questions of international archives in the United States. She argues that Hoover and the Iraq Memory Foundation must negotiate an understanding for the future return of the material.

That seems a safe and sensible principle, but I wonder whether we ought not to allow the Iraqis to determine whether or not it is safe to house nationally significant archives domestically?

Donny George (In an email to the IraqCrisis news group)

I still can't understand how and why Mr. Kanan Makiya, took all those documents and in what position, all those documents are Iraqi property and they should go back immediately to the Iraqi institution that is responsible for the National Documents, that is the National Library and Archives, what kind of Piracy is this? who gave Makiya the right to do this? this is a very bad reputation to every one that was involved in it, and it will not go through I am sure.

Lisa Kristin Hooper (In an email to the IraqCrisis news group)

The American Library Association (ALA) was about to host their annual mid-winter meeting and I was able to propose a resolution condemning the seizure of Iraqi documents and demanding their immediate return to INLA in accord with the Hague Convention. Happily, my resolution was unanimously approved. It is not yet available online through ALA, but it should be posted to ALA's Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) website ( by the end of the day Monday.

Jeff Spurr (In an email to the IraqCrisis news group)

The following article written by John Gravois appeared Wednesday, 23 January, in the Chronicle for Higher Education. I hasten to comment on it, for I believe that it does a great disservice to the Iraq National Library and Archive (INLA), and Dr. Saad Eskander, its Director General. Mr. Gravois reassures me that he is working on a much longer piece to appear in a coming edition of the Chronicle; however that more nuanced approach may not vitiate any damage done by the first piece, which appears to privilege the self-serving arguments of Kanan Makiya and his colleagues, and employs quotations from Dr. Trudy Huskamp Peterson, a prominent expert on archives and international law relating to archives, in such a way as to support the plausibility of the refusal to return the originals to their proper custodian, the Iraq National Archive, and its Director General, Dr. Eskander.

That the newly-designated temporary custodian should be a private institution, and that notable bastion of conservative views, the Hoover Institution, should come as no surprise given that Mr. Makiya has perforce become a fellow traveler of the Neo-cons since he made common cause with the Bush Administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. That such an institution in far-off California should consider itself the proper site for these documents as opposed to the national archives of Iraq is the height of arrogance.

Dr. Eskander's every declaration, and his remarkable work to rebuild and rejuvenate the INLA make his institution the very--indeed the only--unequivocal expression of the values voiced and purportedly adhered to by Kanan Makiya himself to be found in Iraq at present. This is to say that Eskander espouses a progressive, non-sectarian, non-ethnic stance toward his responsibilities, which include a commitment to secure, preserve, and make available the cultural/archival heritage of all citizens of Iraq, to establish the definitive account of the dark legacy of the Saddam Hussein regime and its immediate predecessors, and to make this information available in a controlled and responsible manner so that it is used to benefit all rather than for invidious or destructive ends. That he has accomplished this despite the "violence and insecurity" cited in the article and known to all subscribers to IraqCrisis should be honored and supported in every way, since it demonstrates what can be done even in under those admittedly terrible circumstances by the determined and committed. That it would be Makiya himself who most publicly undermines the INLA's position is shameful at best. The manner in which he patronizes Dr. Eskander* (see article below) is unworthy of a native-born Iraqi who lives in the security of Cambridge, Massachusetts, given Dr. Eskander's track record over more than four years of work throughout every sort of trouble, and in the face of every sort of obstacle.
It reflects badly on the deplorable condition and fractured character of Iraqi politics and governmental administration at present if any current members of the Iraqi government did indeed personally sanction this action as the article suggests. It is a sure sign of that government's lack of commitment to its own laws, and susceptibility to outside pressure. That little is made--in Iraq or in the US--of the unseemly deal by which these documents were surreptitiously spirited out of Baghdad by the US military, similarly reflects on this lack of governmental integrity. How is the INLA to pursue its legal right to the tens of millions of documents seized by the US Army in 2003, if such behavior is supported in late 2005 and further countenanced in 2008?

It is all the more astonishing that this agreement vis-à-vis the Hoover Institution should have been undertaken given that the US Army scanned every last document under the Iraq Memory Foundation's control in West Virginia, and so the information contained in them is now in the IMF's hands, leaving aside for the time being the question of whether any private institution should hold such information permanently. The IMF no longer has any need for the documents, and, indeed, its representatives were desperate to find a home for them. That they should begrudge them to the very institution that, by rights, should be their custodian is a sign of unbecoming arrogance and vanity, and is unjustly condescending to an institution that has demonstrated its viability.

As regards the issue of communication between the two institutions voiced by Dr. Huskamp, Dr. Eskander was rebuffed at every turn by the representatives of the IMF in Baghdad. In 2005, I myself encouraged Kanan Makiya to communicate with Dr. Eskander, with whom I had been in communication since 2004. Makiya was uninterested. More to the point, I received the following from Dr. Eskander in 2005 in response to my encouragement that he, in turn, communicate with the IMF:

"(1)I asked our Deputy Minister, Maysoon Al-Damluji, to talk to the head of the IMF in Baghdad, Mr. Mustafa Al-Kadhimiy. He refused to talk to us or even to acknowledge the existence of any Iraqi legislation governing archival issues. By the way Al-Damluji is a friend of Kanan Makiya.
"(2) In an official letter to the Council of Ministers, I showed my willingness to cooperate with IMF, providing that it respects the fact that its documents and records are the property of the Iraqi State (i.e. Iraq National Library & Archives).
"(3) I asked the officials of the US Embassy to intervene in the matter because they can exercise some pressure on the IMF and its activities. I am still waiting for their reply.
"We must know all the details about the IMF' collections. They must be classified and cataloged in order to prevent theft and misuse. These documents are highly sensitive from political and human rights perspective, as contain the names of tens of thousands of people. They should not be held by any private group, which can use it for its own interests. If you read Iraqi newspapers, then you will understand how the stolen documents are misused for political and personal reasons. Yes, the IMF people are liberals, but they need to respect liberal rules and regulations. We should not think of liberalism as a mere political or economic theory but also as a system and true practices.
"I tried in vain to tell the IMF people that they were violating Iraqi laws, and that they should respect the rule of laws if they are true democrats.
"By the way, I have persuade[d] our Ministry to construct a five-store building to accommodate millions of new documents and records. The construction will start next year.
"I welcome any initiative to establish direct contact with the IMF, and I am willing to talk directly to them at anytime and anywhere."

Put simply, it is the representatives of the Iraq Memory Foundation who never showed any willingness to cooperate with the Iraq National Library and Archive, which made clear its openness to communication.

The fact that Dr. Eskander made these overtures should have been represented in Mr. Gravois' article, for he had this information from me. Simply employing Dr. Huskamp's quote** (see article below) in effect constructed a false representation of the situation. I hope that the second article will vitiate the damage done and false impressions created by the first.

I am taking this opportunity to belatedly convey to the IraqCrisis List the text of the Academic Freedom Award given at the MESA meetings in November in Montréal to Dr. Eskander. A person whose words and deeds deserve this recognition also deserves everyone's support in matters such as the one at hand.

"2007 Academic Freedom Award

MESA's Committee on Academic Freedom is honored to present its annual Academic Freedom award for 2007 to Dr. Sa'ad Eskander.

Dr. Eskander is the Director-General, Iraq National Library and Archive, where he has carried on a four-year struggle to defend and preserve the cultural heritage of all Iraq for all Iraqis.

In the aftermath of the March 2003 invasion, some 60% of the archival collections were lost forever to looting and arson, along with 95% of the rare books and 25% of all the book collections. When Dr. Eskander visited the library for the first time, the building had no furnishings, equipment or windows. What did remain was covered in soot.

Since then he has worked tirelessly to restore the Archive's physical plant, including reopening the main reading room, creating the first conservation lab in Iraq, and a modern IT department and computer systems, and opening the library to all students and scholars. Under the most difficult of circumstances and against opposition from his own ministry, he has built a new 300-person staff, of both men and women, which crosses ethnic and sectarian lines , and has promoted transparency and staff participation in decision-making. While 5 of his employees have been murdered, he has supported and defended many others, facing down gunmen in the chaos of Iraq under a government and an American occupation that has done little to ensure the safety of academics.

In a statement of 5 July 2006, the MESA Board of Directors registered its profound alarm as a community of scholars at this state of affairs. With it, the Board pledged its determination to take steps to promote programs and policies in Iraq and on behalf of the international community of scholars and researchers that would positively address this disturbing situation.

As part of that effort to attempt to better publicize the plight of Iraqi academics and in recognition of his extraordinary personal valor in working to preserve the remains of the archives of Iraq and to create a model institution inspired by progressive, non-sectarian values, which represent not only the basis for future scholarship on the country, but also its hope for cultural reconstruction and reconciliation, we make this award this year to Dr. Sa'ad Eskander.

To which I would only add that his staff has grown under his administration from 95 to about 425.

John Gravois (Chronicle of Higher Ed.)

Two shipping containers' worth of records created by Iraq's Baath Party that have been stored on an American naval facility for the past 21 months are about to find a new home at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank and library affiliated with Stanford University.

Hoover signed a deal on Monday with the Iraq Memory Foundation-a private, nonprofit group that has had custody of the documents since just after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003-for the transfer of about seven million pages of records and other artifacts from Saddam Hussein's tenure as Iraqi president. The deal came despite recent impassioned calls from Iraq's national archivist for the collections' immediate repatriation back to Baghdad.

Saad Eskander, the director general of the Iraq National Library and Archive, argues that the records of the Baath Party-which ruled Iraq from 1968 to 2003-are inalienable public property and belong in the national archive without delay.

Officials of the Iraq Memory Foundation say they received the blessing of Iraq's deputy prime minister and of the prime minister's office to carry out the deal with Hoover.

According to the terms of the deal, Hoover has agreed to hold the records for the foundation for the next five years. At the end of that period, the two parties will examine the possibility of repatriating the documents to Iraq.

"It is essential that these documents be back among the Iraqi people," Kanan Makiya, founder of the Iraq Memory Foundation and an Iraqi-born professor of Middle East studies at Brandeis University, said in a recent interview with The Chronicle. "But," he added, "Baghdad is just not ready for it."...

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