SAA Reaches Out to Iraq National Archives

Iraq National Library and Archives in Jeopardy

The Society of American Archivists (SAA) is the world’s largest association of archivists, representing 4,900 individual and institutional members from 20 nations.  Archivists are the professionals who are charged with selecting, preserving, and making accessible the documentary history of societies and nations.  These tasks serve to strengthen democratic societies and nations by ensuring citizens’ access to the records of their governments.

We are deeply concerned about recent reports that Iraq National Guard troops have illegally and unnecessarily occupied the Iraq National Library and Archives.

SAA has no method of independently verifying these reports or of assessing the extent of damage that may have occurred to the archives. However, SAA goes on record as deploring threats to archival and other cultural material during armed conflict through occupation by military forces.  The placement of troops in or near such institutions has the potential of drawing enemy violence toward the repository.  Such acts endanger documents and other materials that are essential to the cultural patrimony of Iraq’s citizens.

As the International Committee of the Blue Shield has stated, "Historical sites and monuments, paintings and museum artifacts, books and libraries, manuscripts and archives all recount the history of the communities affected and of mankind as a whole. They are extremely vulnerable to attack during armed conflicts and, if they are damaged or destroyed, it is always difficult and often impossible to replace them or to restore them to their former condition. If the cultural heritage does not survive intact, then present and future generations in the region will not be able to appreciate their cultural identity in the fullest sense."

SAA calls on the Iraq National Guard and all groups within the country to respect the provisions of The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols, as well as the 1972 World Heritage Convention, which calls on countries “not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage” of any nation.  It is particularly deplorable that the National Guard may be threatening and damaging the cultural patrimony of its own nation.