Stanford Gains Access To Collection Of Iraqi Documents

This story was written by Eric Messinger, The Stanford Daily

Records from Saddam Husseins Iraqi government have made their way to Stanfords Hoover Institution for safekeeping.

The documents are from the Baath party in Iraq, which ruled the country prior to its overthrow in 2003. The agreement to store the documents at Hoover was reached with the Iraq Memory Foundation, an American-based organization that collected the documents after the American invasion.

At Hoover, cataloguing efforts are set to begin shortly, and the first documents should become available to scholars in upcoming months.

The records from the Baath Regional Command, the headquarters of the Baath Arab Socialist Party and the Special Security Agency number in the millions.

It will take some time to catalogue them, said Hoovers Senior Associate Director Richard Sousa. We are going to open them sequentially.

As part of the terms of the agreement to store the documents, the Hoover archives have been provided digitized copies of all of the papers. These copies will remain on campus after the original documents are returned to Iraq, making the papers a permanent fixture of the collections. According to Sousa, scholars will not be able to access the original documents, which will be held at an undisclosed location.

Sousa said he expects international attention for the papers because of their historic value, and Stanford faculty have already noted the papers importance.

They would be the most important window into the workings of the Saddam regime, said Iranian Studies Prof. Abbas Milani, also a Hoover fellow. Its a great benefit for the study of Saddams form of despotism. Its a truly incredibly treasure trove of information.

Scholars in the field will also benefit from the detail of the records, including those related to ethnic cleansing.

The regime was remarkably bureaucratic, Political Science Prof. James Fearon said. [They kept] a huge amount of records on who they were torturing and putting in jail.

Still, many records were not saved, according to Williamson Evers, a research fellow on leave from Hoover and a senior official in the Bush administration who spent time doing reconstruction work in Iraq following the American invasion.

The whole central records of the Ministry of Education were destroyed, 100 percent, Evers said.

The papers still provide, however, information about a historically shrouded regime.

Its a secretive party, Evers added. We dont know much about their inner workings.

The records have been the source of some controversy because of the decision to move them outside of Iraq, and the Iraq National Library and Archive as well as domestic critics have urged for their return. Hoover has agreed to house the documents for five years, and, as Sousa emphasized, has not taken ownership of the papers.

The originals are on loan and were planning to return them, Sousa said. Thats what archivists do.

While the originals will be returned, scholars at Stanford will have continued access to a crucial look inside Iraqi history.

For anyone who wants to study how Saddam Husseins regime worked, this will be a necessary stop, Fearson said. It will form the basis of our future understanding.