The damaged documents from Baghdad in US custody (photo:NPR).
A potential cultural property dispute is brewing between the US and Iraq over relics of the Jewish community of Iraq. When US forces discovered the cache, it was suspended in sewage water inside the former offices of the Iraqi secret police. Initially, as I recall, this concatenation of Jewish, Zionist, and Israeli objects and texts, puzzled observers. What were very, very old Torah scrolls and a book by Ben-Gurion doing in the basement of the Mukhabarat? At the time, some read it is a kind of Judaica fetishist's trove. However, according to the WaPo story, the apparent randomness of the collection is the clue to its origin. This is the totality of what Iraqi Jews left behind for their inquisitors to seize -- a "snapshot" of the refugees' former life; their genizah. But you can see that the different property claims to this stuff are being fought out over just that issue: is the detritus of the community, or its metonym? Is it an "archive?" Papyrologists, among other scholars of antiquity, are always asking themselves, "What is an archive?" For what it's worth, I still think you could get a pretty interesting take on the Mukhabarat's culture and outlook at that historical moment by analyzing what they decided to keep in their archive.
In any case, the US government is treating this piece of cultural property precisely as they would treat any other. It belongs to the nation-state of Iraq, but we're its guardian for now. In other words, despite the warm relationship between Natan Sharansky, Dick Cheney, and a certain Pentagon official, Jews aren't getting special treatment. But there is certainly room for negotiation. The Cypriots got the State Department to ban the import of coins minted in Cyprus during the Graeco-Egyptian Ptolemaic "occupation" of the island, even if they were unearthed today in Egypt or Turkey. Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, seems to want to tie his claim here to implicit claims of looting during the invasion, laying liability for the whole lot at the Americans' feet. Rhetoric that ties the loss of cultural property during US occupation to losses sustained during Ottoman occupation is much more likely to receive a friendly hearing in the court of public opinion. Why quibble about these lamentably damaged Jewish documents while the Istanbul archaeological museum is bedecked with Mesopotamian loot?