Saturday, May 10, 2003


Iraqi Documents on Israel Surface on a Cultural Hunt (Yahoo News)
Wed May 7, 8:59 AM ET

By JUDITH MILLER The New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq (news - web sites), May 6 What began today as a hunt for an ancient Jewish text at secret police headquarters here wound up unearthing a trove of Iraqi intelligence documents and maps relating to Israel as well as offers of sales of uranium and other nuclear material to Iraq.


The search began this morning when 16 soldiers from MET Alpha teamed up with members of the Iraqi National Congress, a leading opposition group headed by Ahmad Chalabi, to search for what an intelligence source had described as one of the most ancient copies of the Talmud in existence, dating from the seventh century. The Talmud is a book of oral law, with rabbinical commentaries and interpretations.

A former senior official of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s secret police, had told the opposition group a few days earlier that he had hidden the ancient Jewish book in the basement of his headquarters. The building had been badly damaged by coalition bombing, said the man, who is now working for the Iraqi National Congress, but he was still willing to take a group there to recover it. MET Alpha hesitated. Its mission was hunting for proof of unconventional weapons in Iraq, not saving cultural and religious treasures. But Col. Richard R. McPhee, its commander, decided that the historic Talmud was too valuable to leave behind.

Early this morning, a seven-vehicle convoy pulled out of the Iraqi Hunting Club, a former Baathist retreat that is now the headquarters for the Iraqi National Congress. Accompanied by members of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, MET Alpha's chaplain, who has a strong interest in religious texts, and a reporter, the group arrived at Mukhabarat headquarters only to find the section of the building in which the precious document was said to be stored under four feet of murky, fetid water. Dead animals floated on the surface. The stairwell down to the muck was littered with shards of glass, pieces of smashed walls and other bombing debris.

Temporarily daunted by the overpowering stench, MET Alpha's leader, Chief Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonzales, and two other MET Alpha soldiers eventually collected themselves and plunged into the mire in search of the holy text as the team chaplain shook his head in disbelief.

What they found instead of the precious book was what the former Iraqi intelligence official said was the operations center of the Mukhabarat's Israel-Palestine department. Two Iraqi National Congress members joined the soldiers in the water as they inched their way by flashlight through the 50-foot hallway to the rooms where they happened upon the intelligence documents.

Slogging down the dank hallway, the soldiers reached a room where they found hundreds of books floating in the foul water. There they rescued three bundles of older Jewish books, including a Babylonian Talmud from Vilna, accounting books of the Jewish community of Baghdad between 1949 and 1953 and dozens of more modern scholarly books mostly in Arabic and Hebrew "Generals of Israel," by Moshe Ben-Shaul; David Ben-Gurion's "Memoirs"; and "Semites and Anti-Semites," by the Princeton scholar Bernard Lewis.

But no seventh-century Talmud.



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