Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Lost and Found in Saddam’s Basement

Barbara Bensoussan

Slogging through the water in the bombed-out basement of Saddam Hussein’s dreaded Mukhabarat intelligence agency, investigators on the lookout for those elusive WMDs found another an unexpected cache. When they saw the casing of an ancient Torah scroll floating by, they knew Saddam has secreted a treasure trove of Jewish history in the depths of his cellar.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Baghdad, 1984: Two trucks arrive at theMeirTweig synagogue, the only shul in use by the handful of Jews still remaining in Baghdad. The trucks have been dispatched bySaddamHussein, the country’s ruthless dictator, charged with the mission of delivering yet another slap to the face of the Jewish community.

Saddam’s men go upstairs to the women’s section, where a large stash of Jewish seforim, documents, and artifacts have been consolidated and safeguarded — cherished relics of a Jewish community that has largely fled. The men confiscate everything they can find, load the trucks, and drive off, leaving the synagogue’s occupants terrified and bereft.

Baghdad, 2003: A coalition led by US and British forces invades Iraq, largely on the pretext thatSaddamHussein has stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Eventually, Saddam is lifted out of an underground bunker and the Iraqi army is defeated, but those famous WMDs are never found.


It’s a warm Monday in May, with the US-led coalition forces and the Iraqi National Congress (INC) in control of Baghdad. An Iraqi informant, probably seeking to curry favor with Iraq’s new leadership, approaches INC leaderAhmedChalabiand tells him that he used to head the Jewish section of Saddam’s intelligence service. He claims there is an entire trove of Jewish artifacts, including a seventh-century Talmud written on parchment, still lying there in the Mukhabarat, Saddam’s infamous intelligence agency.

Chalabi immediately calls two longtime friends currently in Baghdad: HaroldRhode(who worked with the INC from 1991 to 2003), and journalist JudithMillerof the New York Times.Miller has been embedded with the 16-member Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, a group searching for those elusive nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Rhode, Miller, Team Alpha, and a few Iraqis from the INC jump into their Jeeps and head for the Mukhabarat. They’re not really sure what, if anything, they might expect to find there.

United States, 2014: “So off we went, and our informant points to two windows down below in the basement,” recountsDr.Rhode, now retired and safely back at his home in Potomac, Maryland. “The next time we looked around, he had disappeared into thin air.

To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you