309. Telegram From the Interests Section in Baghdad to the Department of State1

616. Subject: Iraqi Jews. Ref: (A) State 078285, (B) 75 Baghdad 1225, (C) 75 Baghdad 437.2

1. The RCC decree of November 26, 1975 permits those Iraqi Jews who emigrated after 1948 to return to Baghdad and enjoy the rights of Iraqi citizenship. This GOI attempt to assume a humanitarian mantle and distinguish Jews from Zionists has neither created a flood of Jewish returnees nor alleviated the discrimination leveled against the five hundred Jews in Baghdad.

2. While the Baghdad press has reported the return of a few Jewish families, including the recent arrival of the Yousif Saheh Nawi family from Israel, the acting head of the Jewish community has privately denied earlier press reports that Jews returned to Baghdad immediately after the issuance of the RCC decree of November 26. On the other hand, we believe that Iraqi Jews who wish to leave can usually procure the necessary travel documents and exit permits.

3. In December 1975, the Canadian First Secretary (protect), on the pretext of obtaining a birth certificate for a Jewish Canadian, discussed the Baghdad Jewish community with Rouben Naji Elias, acting leader of the community. He was informed that five hundred, rpt five hun[Page 837]dred Jews, confined to Baghdad, remain in Iraq. This remnant of the Iraqi Jewish community largely consists of individuals who chose to remain behind in the hopes of protecting the family wealth. Since the Iraqis have prohibited any and all sales by Jews, subterranean attempts to convert assets into a more liquid form must rely on illegal joint enterprises, particularly with Christians.

4. Although the Jewish Community Center in the souq is allowed to remain open, the Iraqi Government has restricted Jewish cultural expression. The community does not have a rabbi. Jewish children have been required to attend Iraqi schools since the nationalization of the last Jewish secondary school in late 1973.

5. Rouben Naji Elias declined to discuss individual cases of persecution, either by Baath Party thugs or the Iraqi security apparatus.

6. Comment: The GOI has made a major propaganda effort to distinguish Jews per se from Zionists, but they have apparently been unsuccessful in their efforts to attract any significant number of Jews of Iraqi origin to return to Iraq. While the conditions of life in the Jewish community in Baghdad are still rather grim, we suspect that there may have been some improvement as the GOI attempts to persuade the world that it does not discriminate against Jews per se and that it wants Iraqi Jews to return. Nevertheless, we have the impression that most Iraqi Jews remaining in Baghdad would leave if they had any satisfactory way of disposing of their property.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760181–0312. Secret.
  2. Telegram 78285 was not found. Telegram 1225 from Baghdad, December 2, 1975, described the policies of the Iraqi Government regarding Iraqi Jews and Zionism. (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files, D750417–0808) In telegram 437 from Baghdad, April 18, 1975, the Interests Section responded to a Department query regarding an alleged recent arrest of Iraqi Jews, noting that since the arrests of 1972–1973, Iraqi Jews who wished to leave had been granted exit permits and not more than 200 remained in Iraq. (Ibid., D750139–0107)