This paper explores the political, legal, and ethical issues at stake in the debate over the custody of the Iraqi Baath Party records. The dispute over the records' past and discussion about their future reveals a larger political struggle over the custody of records seized during wartime. Prevailing international law deems these records cultural property and provides legal guidelines for their treatment and return. Ethical arguments in favor of the seizure highlight the protection of the records as well as their accessibility to international researchers and human rights lawyers, while arguments against the seizure stress the importance of the records to the formation of national identity and nation-building in Iraq. Underlying the political, legal, and ethical arguments surrounding these records are two contrasting views of cultural property: on the one hand, cultural property is seen as an expression of national rights to which members of a nation are entitled, and, on the other hand, access to cultural property is seen as a universal human right to which all people, regardless of national affiliation, are entitled. This paper concludes by suggesting a third, postcolonial approach to cultural property.

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