Some 300 rare and valuable books confiscated from Iraq's Jewish community by Saddam Hussein's regime have been secretly spirited into Israel, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.
The books include a 1487 commentary on the biblical Book of Job and another volume of biblical prophets printed in Venice in 1617, the Haaretz daily said.
The volumes are part of a massive collection of books confiscated by the secret police of the executed Iraqi dictator and stored in security installations in the Iraqi capital until the US-led invasion of 2003.
Many volumes were damaged during the bombing of government buildings in the opening weeks of the war, and after the fall of Baghdad most of the books were sent off to be temporarily stored at the Library of Congress in Washington.
Others however ended up in the hands of private dealers.
"We bought them from thieves," Mordechai Ben-Porat, an Iraqi-born Jew and the founder of Jerusalem's Babylonian Jewry Heritage centre told the newspaper, adding that the foundation paid some 25,000 dollars (16,000 euros).
In the beginning, Ben-Porat sent an emissary to Baghdad who shipped the books directly to Israel, but once the Americans caught wind of his activities they forbade further shipments, forcing him to smuggle the rest, he said.
Iraq once hosted a thriving 2,600 year-old Jewish community that numbered some 130,000 people at the time Israel was created in 1948.
But after Israel came into being and into conflict with its Arab neighbours, Iraqi Jews began to suffer discrimination and were often accused of being agents of the new Jewish state.
By 1952 more than 123,000 had left the country, and 20 years later there were no more than 500 left.
Many more left the country following the 1991 Gulf War and today, after the chaos unleashed by the US-led invasion and the overthrow of Saddam, only some two dozen are believed to remain.