The Michigan Republican says it is a way to learn what is inside more than 35,000 boxes that have not been translated because the government does not have enough Arabic linguists with security clearances.

"Most people have acknowledged that we are never going to get through them," he said of the boxes. Hoekstra is hoping to work with the new Iraqi government to put the documents online so journalists, academics and other researchers can sift through them.

Hoekstra has discussed the proposal with senior intelligence officials. In a letter on Friday to the national intelligence director, Hoekstra and Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, a Republican, made their case for the sweeping declassification.

Classified documents 

Most of the documents were grabbed during the 2003 Iraq invasion and quickly classified, even though they were not a product of the US government. Some date back to the first Gulf war in 1991.

It would be unprecedented to declassify volumes of information without first scrubbing them for secrets the US may not want revealed.

"There are always excuses not to do this, but I think the benefits of going through all of these documents far outweigh any risks," Hoekstra said in an interview.

He said one document came to his attention with information about the fallen Iraqi government's links to terrorist groups and chemical and biological weapons, although he does not know if the document is authentic.

"There are always excuses not to do this, but I think the benefits of going through all of these documents far outweigh any risks"

Peter Hoekstra, 
House Intelligence Committee Chairman

Such claims have largely been rejected, and the Bush administration has come under fire for leading the nation to war with flawed intelligence about the threat posed by then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

"I am not asserting that this will prove one thing or another," Hoekstra said. "One thing it will surely do is give us a much clearer insight into what was going on in the former Iraqi regime than we have today."

The documents, now located in Qatar, were gathered from a number of Iraqi sources, including the military, health ministries, political organisations and Saddam's personal collection.

Hoekstra said those from the intelligence agency were not likely to be released because they may contain sensitive information, such as the names of agents working for the former Iraqi government.

Hoekstra and Roberts made the request to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, the former US ambassador to Iraq who became the nation's spy chief in April. Negroponte's office is looking into the matter.