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Saddam Hussein’s papers, along with controversy, find a temporary home with the Hoover Institution

BY ADAM GORLICK

After five years of storage in a Baghdad home and a U.S. government facility, millions of records from Saddam Hussein's regime may soon be available for review at the Hoover Institution.

The Iraq Memory Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based group that collected about 7 million documents from Hussein's Baath Party headquarters just after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, is entrusting the records to Hoover, which has agreed to hold the documents for five years and then help arrange their return to Iraq.

Parts of the collection—which promise insight into how Hussein ran his dictatorship—may be open by the end of the summer, said Richard Sousa, Hoover's senior associate director.

Sousa said the institution's agreement with the Iraq Memory Foundation was approved by Iraq's deputy prime minister, the Ministry of Culture and the Cabinet of the Prime Minister's office. He said it is too early to determine whether the documents will end up in the Iraq National Library and Archives or another branch of the government. He said he does not know who technically owns the documents.

"This is a deposit agreement that the highest levels of Iraqi government are aware of," Sousa said. "They totally endorse what we're doing."

However, the arrangement has its detractors. Saad Eskander, director of the Iraq National Library and Archives, has said the records are the property of Iraq and should be sent to the national archives immediately. Eskander has the backing of the Society of American Archivists and the Association of Canadian Archivists, which issued a joint statement in April urging that the collection be returned to Iraq and "maintained as part of the official records in the National Library and Archives."

Mark Greene, president of the Society of American Archivists, said he is worried that if the documents are not returned to Iraq's national archives, they may be used by an Iraqi government agency with a political ax to grind. The national archives are insulated from politics but are controlled by the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, Greene said.

"We have full faith in the archives' independence," Greene said. "Our concern is whether the Ministry of Culture is ultimately willing to treat those records in a sound archival manner and one that maintains a certain degree of nonpartisanship."

The Iraq Memory Foundation collected the documents five years ago with the blessing of Iraq's transitional government, Sousa said. The foundation's director, exiled Iraqi scholar Kanan Makiya, was allowed to store the records in his parents' home in Baghdad.

Makiya's group began digitizing the records and reached an agreement with the U.S. military in 2005 to store the documents in West Virginia while the digitizing process was finished, Sousa said.

"The government said, 'We can't hold them anymore,' so it was incumbent on IMF to send them back to Iraq or send them somewhere else," Sousa said. Because of the instability in Iraq, Sousa said Hoover could do a better job keeping the documents safe.

Sousa said that a Hoover fellow and Makiya first discussed the possibility of storing the collection at Hoover several years ago, but serious talks began last year.

The documents were trucked to the West Coast on three semi-trailers in February and are currently being stored off campus, Sousa said. Since they arrived, the collection has been cleaned, sorted and cataloged, he said.