The recently held Conference of Religions and Sects in Iraq, supervised by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, was the first conference in the country dealing with the defense of religions in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq—but while Christians and both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims attended, no Jews were there to represent Iraqi-Jewish history.
One Iraqi writer, however, spoke about Judaism at the conference despite being pressured not to do so. Nabil Al-Hadairi described that experience in an article published by the Gatestone Institute on Dec. 27.
“The Presidential Council [of Iraq], the ruling party, and Iranian agents in Sulaymaniyah all warned me not to raise such a subject and speak about it, and tried to forbid it,” Al-Hadairi wrote.
“They claimed that it is too sensitive and dangerous, and that due to the current public mood, it should not to be spoken about in public,” he added.
Jews played an important role in Iraqi history for more than 2,500 years, starting with their exile to Babylon from 597 B.C. By the 1920s, 40 percent of Baghdad’s residents were Jewish. After the end of the British Mandate period in Iraq in 1932, many were stripped of their citizenships, expelled from the country, and forced to leave behind their property to looters. Many immigrated to the state of Israel. Those that remained continued to face persecution well into the 1960s, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. By 2008, there were less than 10 Jews living in Baghdad.
Al-Hadairi described how he noted at the religion conference “that the Iraqi constitution does not mention anything about Iraqi Jews, so that it has become necessary to draft an amendment to Article II of the constitution, granting official recognition to the Jewish faith, adding it to the other recognized national religions.” The writer urged Iraqi leaders to allow descendants of Iraqi Jews to regain citizenship and compensate them for the persecution of their families.
“Despite the uncivilized methods used in attempting to suppress my presentation, the audience responded with full support and a standing ovation,” Al-Hadairi wrote. “The address apparently caused considerable embarrassment to the conference’s organizing committee, which then was forced to take the topic seriously.”