Return of Saddam-era archive to Iraq opens debate, old wounds

BAGHDAD (AFP) – A trove of Saddam-era files secretly returned to Iraq has pried open the country’s painful past, prompting hopes some may learn the fate of long-lost relatives along with fears of new bloodshed.

The five million pages of internal Baath Party documents were found in 2003, just months after the United States (US) led invasion that toppled Saddam, in the party’s partly-flooded headquarters in tumultuous Baghdad.

Two men were called in by confused American troops to decipher the Arabic files. One was Kanan Makiya, a long-time opposition archivist, the other was Mustafa al-Kadhemi, then a writer and activist, and now Iraq’s prime minister.

“With flashlights, because the electricity was out, we entered the waterlogged basement,” Makiya told AFP by phone from the US. “Mustafa and I were reading through these documents and realised we had stumbled upon something huge.”

There were Baath membership files and letters between the party and ministries on administrative affairs, but also reports from regular Iraqis who were accusing their neighbours of criticising Saddam.

File photo shows an Iraqi walking past a dismantled bronze statue of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. PHOTO: AFP