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CULTURE & HERITAGE - Culture & History

The Jews of Iraq (Part 2)... By Mitchell Bard. From the Jewish Virtual Library

... In 1950, Iraqi Jews were permitted to leave the country within a year provided they forfeited their citizenship. A year later, however, the property of Jews who emigrated was frozen and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who chose to remain in the country.


From 1949 to 1951, 104,000 Jews were evacuated from Iraq in Operations Ezra & Nechemia (named after the Jewish leaders who took their people back to Jerusalem from exile in Babylonia beginning in 597 B.C.E.); another 20,000 were smuggled out through Iran.
In 1952, Iraq’s government barred Jews from emigrating and publicly hanged two Jews after falsely charging them with hurling a bomb at the Baghdad office of the U.S. Information Agency.

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With the rise of competing Ba’ath factions in 1963, additional restrictions were placed on the remaining Iraqi Jews. The sale of property was forbidden and all Jews were forced to carry yellow identity cards. After the Six Day War, more repressive measures were imposed: Jewish property was expropriated; Jewish bank accounts were frozen; Jews were dismissed from public posts; businesses were shut; trading permits were cancelled and telephones were disconnected. Jews were placed under house arrest for long periods of time or restricted to the cities.

Persecution was at its worst at the end of 1968. Scores were jailed upon the discovery of a local “spy ring” composed of Jewish businessmen. Fourteen men, eleven of them Jews, were sentenced to death in staged trials and hanged in the public squares of Baghdad; others died of torture. On January 27,
1969, Baghdad Radio called upon Iraqis to “come and enjoy the feast.” Some 500,000 men, women and children paraded and danced past the scaffolds where the bodies of the hanged Jews swung; the mob rhythmically chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to all traitors.” This display brought a world-wide public outcry that Radio Baghdad dismissed by declaring: “We hanged spies, but the Jews crucified Christ.” Jews remained under constant surveillance by the Iraqi government.

In response to international pressure, the Baghdad government quietly allowed most of the remaining Jews to emigrate in the early 1970’s, even while leaving other restrictions in force. Most of Iraq’s remaining Jews are now too old to leave. They have been pressured by the government to turn over title, without compensation, to more than $200 million worth of Jewish community property.

The Iraqi government has refurbished the tombs of Ezekiel the Prophet and Ezra the Scribe, which are also considered sacred by Muslims. Jonah the Prophet’s tomb has also been renovated. Saddam Hussein also assigned guards to protect the holy places during his reign. Each year, hundreds of Muslim pilgrims flock to the holy sites to pay homage to these prophets.