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Karl Meyer

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2. National Reconciliation, paragraph 11
January 10, 2007, 5:33 pm

I was especially struck by this recommendation that the rights of women and religious minorities “must be protected.” That imperative “must” must elicit a sigh from those familiar with the Iraqi past. Long before Saddam Hussein”s dreadful reign, Iraq evidenced a talent for intolerance unusual even by Middle Eastern standards. So frequent were massacres from the founding of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1921 that the new state was admitted to the League of Nations in 1932 only after it promised to guarantee to protect its minorities.

What immediately followed was described before his death in 1992 by Elie Kedourie of the London School oi Economics, a scholar of regal authority who had been born Jewish in Baghdad: “In 1933, the kingdom inaugurated its independence by a massacre of the Assyrians carried out by the Iraqi army.” The newly enthroned King Ghazi, successor to Faisal !, then promotrd the commander in charge (the Assyrians are Nestorian Christians of ancient origin who then were of special concern to the Church of England). As Kedourie added in a 1969 essay, “Brief as it is, the history of the Kingdom oi Iraq is full of bloodshed, treason and rapine, and however pitiful its end, we may now say that this was implicit in its beginning.”

It is commonly forgotten that a cabal of pro-Nazi officers seized power in May 1941, the only such coup to occur during the Second World War in the Middle East. At that point, Germany seemed irresistible and Britain was the sole European power to militarily challenge Adolf Hitler. If the Iraqi coup had succeeded, the oil-starved Germans would have formidably benefited. Baghdad was then host to the pro-Nazi Grand Mufti, a powerful clerical figure who called for a holy war against Jews. But Churchill, overruling his theater commander, rushed troopd to retake Baghdad, oust the Grand Mufti and restore the deposed king and prime minister. However, absent pccupying British troops and while the Iraqi army stood by, some 800 Jews were murdered and their homes and shops pillaged.

This was the prelude to the forced expulsion in 1948-1951 of 160,000 Iraqi Jews, who once formed the proudest and largest Jewish community in the Arab Middle East. And yet in light of past Iraqi intolerance to a dozen or so ethnic and religious communiies, the Study Group admonishes that Iraq “must” protect its minorities. If it does not, will the United States offer asylum to those who flee? Alas, the Study Group sheds little light on this relevant question (the current U.S. immigration quota for Iraq is 5,000 per annum).