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Jews, Israel and Iraq

19 March 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

It is still not known whether Israel will be involved in a war with Iraq although the possibility is considered very low and can only come at Saddam Hussein’s initiative.  In the meantime however, a few historical tidbits.

-          When Baghdad was captured from the Turks by the British at the end of WWI, capturing it from the Turks.  Out of a population of 202,000 the Jewish community numbered 80,000.

-          The British chose a Jew, Sasson Ben Ezekiel to be Iraq’s first finance minister during the mandate (1920 – 23).

-          The Iraqis identified Britain with the Jewish National Home in Palestine and gave vent to their anger by rioting during the visit of British Zionist Alfred Mond with Jewish students, already in the 1920’s.

-          With Iraqi independence (1932) the regime shifted to the right, eventually overthrew the pro-British regime during WWII and installed a pro-Nazi junta known as the Golden Square led by Rashid Ali al-Kalini.  The led to the infamous pogrom of Shavuot 1941 when 180 Jews were killed, hundreds more were injured and the Jewish quarters of Baghdad ransacked.  This was known as the Farhud.

-          In the late forties the Jewish community was split between supporting the Zionists and the communists.  The communists were persecuted much more, since the British Iraqi power elite had an interest in Jewish emigration and the sale of their properties at give away prices.

-          From 1948 – 51 of the approximately 130,000 Iraqi Jews, some 90% immigrated to Israel (including many anti-Zionists).

-          Iraq fought Israel in the 1948 War of Independence, losing battles in the Bet Shean area but defeating the IDF in Jenin and coming within seven miles of Netanya on the coast.

-          In 1967 Iraq entered agreement with Egypt, Jordan and Syria on June 3 and moved forces into Jordan.  They never crossed the Jordan River as the war broke out two days later.  Crowds cheered Israeli tank forces when they entered Nablus, thinking they were Iraqis.

-          Hundreds of Iraqi tanks engaged Israeli forces on the Golan during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  None returned.

-          Iraq’s nuclear development planning was interrupted by the Israeli bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor on Shavuot, June 7, 1981 exactly 40 years after the Farhud.

-          Iraq fired 39 scuds into Israel during the Gulf War of 1991.  Israel did not fire back.  Most scud damage was done in Ramat Gan, a town with a heavy Iraqi Jewish population.  The war ended on Purim.

-          The 2003 war began yesterday, Purim, in Israel with the sealing of rooms against chemical warheads.  It may begin the day after Shoshan Purim.

Iraq has never agreed to a cease-fire with Israel.  The two countries have been technically at war for almost 55 years.