World News

Iraq launches bid to recover Saddam-era documents

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq wants the United States to help it recover millions of Saddam-era documents that were seized by U.S. troops or looted in the mayhem following the former leader’s ouster in 2003, officials said on Wednesday.

The files include intelligence papers on Iraqis kept by Saddam Hussein’s feared secret police, information on weapons arsenals, detailed plans of massacres of the regime’s enemies and even tapes of songs praising Saddam, officials said.

Many were pored over by U.S. officials in the aftermath of the invasion as they sought evidence of the weapons programme that had been the main justification for the war -- weapons of mass destruction that proved to be nonexistent, culture and library officials said in a news conference.

Others just went missing in the chaos and looting in the early months of the U.S.-led invasion which toppled Saddam.

Taher al-Humoud, deputy minister for culture, said that Iraq wanted to keep all the files in a national archive that would be made available to the public.

“It’s about sovereignty,” he said. “We intend to use all legal means to restore the files to their rightful place ... especially from the American side.”

Officials at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad were not immediately available for comment.

“Dictatorships document everything, from the simplest details to the biggest events in their citizens’ lives,” said Saad Eskander, director of the national library and archives.

He added that he thought some were still with the CIA.

“This administration is much more open than that of (former President George W.) Bush,” Eskander said. “There is great hope the Obama administration will cooperate with us.”

He said better security in Iraq, which has emerged from the worst of the sectarian killing that nearly tore it apart in 2006 and 2007, had enabled Iraqi officials to turn their attention to the issue of the missing documents. Most crucial were the documents from Saddam’s intelligence services, he said.

Americans “examined the files seeking evidence of a relation between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, or weapons of mass destruction,” Eskander said.

Humoud added that he would use Iraqi law to try to recover documents from looters and that anyone caught with illicit files could face a hefty prison sentence or even execution.