Jewish History

The first Jews arrived in Iraq in the 6th century BCE after being exiled to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar. By 220 CE Iraq had become the center of Jewish scholarship and development and remained that way for the next 500 years. When the Arabs conquered the region in 638, Islam became the official religion and Arabic the official language. In 720, Jews experienced persecution forbidding them to build synagogues, which caused some to flee.

During the period from 1058-1900, Iraq was conquered, in succession, by the Turkish, the Mongols, the Turkish and then the Persians. During this period Jews were often treated as “dhimmis” and were subjected to poll taxes and other discriminatory laws. At this time the Jewish population ranged between 40,000-80,000.

The British Mandate of Iraq began in 1918 and the Jews played a central role by helping to develop the judicial system and postal service. In addition, Jews held positions in Parliament, which led to some resentment by non-Jewish Iraqi citizens.

However, the situation changed drastically when Iraq gained its independence from the British and Rasheed Ali became Prime Minister. In 1932, Ali welcomed Nazi propagandists into Iraq which led to hatred against Iraqi Jews. Jews faced discrimination, harsh laws and quotas for employment which were set to exclude Jews from government positions. On June 1-2, 1941 the Farhood, “violent dispossession,” broke out killing nearly 300 Jews, injuring more than 2,000 and leaving $3 million in damaged property. During the next 10 years, Jews endured random outbreaks of rioting and violence. More than 15,000 Jews fled Iraq from 1941-1951.

In 1948, Iraq participated in a war against Israel. With 130,000 Jews living in Iraq at the time, Zionism was added to the Iraqi criminal code, punishable by death. As a result, 1,500 Jews were imprisoned, tortured and stripped of their property. Between the years 1949-1951, Jews were given permission to leave Iraq under the condition that they renounced their citizenship. 104,000 Jews were evacuated in Operation Ezra and Nechemia. Another 20,000 Jews were smuggled out through Iran.

Emigration was banned in 1952 with 6,000 Jews remaining in Iraq. Jews continued to experience severe persecution, arbitrary arrests, and economic isolation. In 1969, 9 Jewish men were publicly hanged in Baghdad and Basra after the government discovered an alleged “spy ring.” Following these events, Jews no longer felt safe in Iraq and in the 1970’s Jews were allowed to quietly leave the country.

Today less than 10 Jews remain in Iraq.

Thanks to Justice for Jews from Arab Countries for contributing this summary to the JIMENA Iraqi Experience website:

“Discriminatory Decrees and Violations of Human Rights
(Intended merely as a sampling and not an exhaustive compilation)

The first piece of legislation enacted that violated the rights of Jews was the 1948 amendment 12 to the 1938 supplement 13 to the Penal Code of Baghdad. The Baghdad Penal Code set out the provision regarding communism, anarchy and immorality in section 89A(1). The section generally prohibits the publication of anything that incites the spread of hatred, abuse of the government or the integrity of the people. This amendment, enacted in 1948, added “Zionism” to communism, anarchism and immorality, the propagation of which constituted an offence punishable by seven years imprisonment and/or a fine.
In an article that appeared in the New York Times on May 16, 1948, it was reported that: “In Iraq no Jew is permitted to leave the country unless he deposits £5,000 ($20,000) with the Government to guarantee his return. No foreign Jew is allowed to enter Iraq even in transit.”
Law No. 1 of 1950, entitled “Supplement to Ordinance Cancelling Iraqi Nationality,” in fact deprived Jews of their Iraqi nationality. Section 1 stipulated that “the Council of Ministers may cancel the Iraqi nationality of the Iraqi Jew who willingly desires to leave Iraq…” (official Iraqi English translation).[1]
Law No. 5 of 1951 entitled “ A law for the Supervision and Administration of the Property of Jews who have Forfeited Iraqi Nationality” also deprived them of their property. Section 2(a) “freezes” Jewish property.[2]
There were a series of laws that subsequently expanded on the confiscation of assets and property of Jews who “forfeited Iraqi nationality”. These included Law No. 12 of 1951 16 and the attached Law No. 64 of 1967 (relating to ownership of shares in commercial companies) and Law No. 10 of 1968 (relating to banking restrictions).
1. Law No. 1 of 1950 entitled “supplement to Ordinance canceling Iraqi Nationality”, Official Iraqi Gazette, March 9, 1950.
2. Law No. 5 of 1951 entitled “ A law for the Supervision and Administration of the Property of Jews who have Forfeited Iraqi Nationality” (Official Gazette, 10 March 1951, English version, p.17).”