The Iraqi National Library and Archive contained 12 million documents. In addition to a substantial book library, it may have had the largest collection of Arabic newspapers in the world. It housed documents from the period of the Hashmenite monarchy (1920-1958) and the Turkish Ottoman period (1534-1918) as well as documents from the Republican period after 1958 to recent times.
Shortly before the invasion in 2003, staff members and Shia clerics removed nearly 40 percent of the book collection and some of the documents for safekeeping. Clerics also had a steel door to one of the collections welded shut and it remained safe.
An entire wing of the library, the Old Library, was almost completely destroyed. This area housed documents from the Republican era, which may have been the reason for the fires.
Also completely destroyed was the microfilm collection of periodicals and other documents. Dr. Saad Eskander, the library’s Director-General, estimates that 60 percent of the Hashmenite documents were destroyed.
A portion of the documents that were removed by the Islamic clerics faced another disaster. These were stored in the basement of the Board of Tourism, which was deliberately flooded by looters.
Dr. Saad B. Eskander, Director General of the Iraq National Library and Archive, has described the events of mid-April, 2003 as a “national disaster beyond imagination.”