BAGHDAD, Iraq — Many Iraqi Jews forced from their country or displaced following persecution and dispossession more than six decades ago still dream of returning to their homeland. They retain a nostalgia for their temples and the streets where they grew up. It may be difficult or ultimately impossible for a large number of them to turn this dream into reality, but some have begun to return thanks to a law recently passed in Iraqi Kurdistan. Last month, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced the opening of a Jewish representation office at the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, increasing the number of officially recognized religions to seven. The others are Islam, Christianity, Yazidism, Yarsanism, Alawism and Kaka’ism.
The history of the Jews in Mesopotamia dates back to the sixth century B.C. The Jewish community played an important role in Iraq’s economic and cultural life, but in the 1940s Jews became the victims of organized attacks under the Baathist regime. Many were murdered, and their homes and businesses looted and confiscated. Those who survived fled to Europe, the United States and Israel. The persecution of Jews in Iraq coincided with the rise of the Zionist movement, the expulsion of Arabs from Palestine and the establishment in 1948 of the State of Israel, with which the Jews of Iraq had nothing to do. Most Iraqi Jews lived in Baghdad, where they freely practiced their religion. After the founding of the Iraqi state in 1921, Sassoon Eskell, a Jew, became its first minister of finance. He remained in office for two years and was known for his commitment and professionalism while presiding over the ministry.