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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Kings & Presidents -- Last Jews in Baghdad

IRAQ History Monthly E-Newsletter January 2006

Inside This Issue:

1. IRAQ’s Kings & Presidents Part I
2. Sources in Arabic and English
3. “The Last Jews in Baghdad” - Letter Writing Series
4. Introducing The Historians Behind This Newsletter
5. The Purpose of These Monthly E-Newsletters & How To Join This Group List


1. IRAQ’s Kings & Presidents - Part I
Compiled & Translated to English by Wafaa’

King Faisal I (1885-1933)

King Faisal was appointed by the British on August 23, 1921 following the Cairo Conference, which was lead by Churchill. The British began to govern Iraq indirectly because they were severely challenged the year before when confronted by the region’s first ever revolt in 1920. They faced many obstacles and crises by governing Iraq directly.

The British policies from the early days of occupation were unreasonable and oppressive to Iraqis and their ambitions. They controlled nearly every facet of Iraqis' daily lives and gave them marginal privileges. For instance the top-executive positions of the administrative body that overlooked citizens’ affairs all through the middle of 1920 was comprised of 534 employees; of which 507 British, 7 Indians and 20 Iraqis!

Before the 1920 revolution, the education was in deterioration as well that the number of high schools in all of Iraq was only ten. Serious health problems and diseases threatened the society with Cholera and other fatal diseases that reduced the population of Baghdad to one third. All of the above-mentioned problems in addition to the political instability provided fertile ground for the 1920 revolution.

One of the major problems that faced King Faisal I was that of Mosul, a problem that existed before he became king. The Mosul crises began in 1918 and did not get resolved until 1925. The turbulence in Mosul was not due to only internal conflicts within various ethnic and religious groups and between various factions within Mosul and the Iraqi government, but was also due to external factors. The presence of oil in Mosul caused severe competition between foreign opportunists and delayed as well as complicated the process of resolving this problem.

It was hurtful, to the extent of funny, to read in history pages how Europe, the USA and Turkey stole and divided Iraq’s oil: France received 23,75%; the USA was awarded a similar percentage; Britain took almost 50%; Kulbankian, famous Armenian businessman, received 5% and Turkey was given 10% for a period of 25 years!

By 1933, the government was weaker than Iraq’s tribes and was at their mercy, not only in terms of coordination and alliances, but also in terms of weaponry. King Faisal I explained in a memorandum that the number of rifles in the country was more than 100,000 while at the government’s disposal was 15,000! Therefore, by this year, the tribes (Arabs and Kurds) were a leading force in IRAQ’s political life.

In the summer of 1933, King Faisal died in a mysterious way. As he was on a trip with Nuri As-Said for medical treatment, he had a sudden heart attack after drinking a cup of tea. Nuri As-Said refused to perform autopsy on the King’s body to verify the reason for the death. He accompanied the King’s corpse on a ship from Europe to the Palestinian shores. Then transferred the body to be buried in IRAQ.

Faisal I was known to have been physically weak and had some health problems that necessitated several treatments and operations in Iraq and Europe. He was known to be quiet, sad, and rarely smiled.

In his book on Rashid Ali al-Gailany, Dr. Waleed Hamdi evaluated King Faisal I by stating that,
he had been a great national leader and politician, his greatest political virtue having been his ability to bargain and knowing when to compromise…… He was able to maintain the balance between the British and the Iraqi nationalists; and also between rival factions, races and sects within Iraq itself.”


2. Sources in Arabic & English

* Used to provide the details of part 1 of the series (above):- “Rashid Ali al-Ghailani-The Nationalist Movement in IRAQ 1939-1941,” by Dr. Walid M. S. Hamdi, published by Darf Publishers Ltd. London, 1987.

- العراق - هوامش من التاريخ والمقاومة " عبد الرحمن منيف ، المركز الثقافي العربي ، 2004

* About Kings Faisal I & Ghazi for Additional Reading:

1. English Sources

- "Three Kings In Baghdad, 1921-1958" by Gerald De Gaury, published by Hutchinson, London, 1961

2. Arabic Sources

1. تاريخ الوزارات العراقية ـ عبد الرزاق الحسني ـ الأجزاء الأربعة الأولى
2. العراق قديما و حديثا ـ عبد الرزاق الحسني
3. لمحات اجتماعية من تاريخ العراق الحديث ـ د. علي الوردي ـ جزء سبعة
4. ملوك العرب ـ أمين الريحاني
5. ذكريات ناجي شوكت ـ تحرير عبد الرزاق الحسني
6. ألف يوم ويوم ـ سندرسن باشا
7. مهنتي كملك ـ الملك حسين بن طلال
8. الهاشميون في سوريا و العراق ـ د. عبد الكريم غرايبة
9. يقظة العرب ـ قسطنطين زريق
10. الحكم الفيصلي في الأردن ـ د. خيرية قاسمية
11. مذكراتي ـ جزءان ـ محمد كرد علي
12. من أوراق المس بيل ـ ترجمة جعفر خياط
13. العراق ـ ثلاثة أجزاء ـ خدوري خدوري
14. وريثة العروش _ فائق علي 2001

3. “The Last Jews in Baghdad” - Letter Writing Series

Dear Naseem/Nassim:
This is part III of my letter writing series.

Since the middle of October when I sent you the first letter regarding the subject matter of your book, “The Last Jews in Baghdad,” I’ve been on several short and long trips. So, this letter series has been delayed.

I also felt that maybe I was wasting my time and energy when Joel Beinin didn’t care to respond, and when I received three insignificant emails from you! Instead I received an email from Peter Sluglett discussing the issue of Jewish Arabs in the typical manner the so-called scholars of the industrial west argue it and referring to Joel Beinin as a scholar! With all do respect to Beinin, had he been truly a scholar, he wouldn’t have made many errors and misconceptions in the writing of your book’s forward and, as the definition of a scholar states, he would have at least responded to give feedback and equally learn!

1. To Naseem Rejwan on Jews, Sunnis, Shiites (Part I)

2. Corresponding with Naseem Rejwan Part II

3. Peter Sluglett on IRAQI Jews [MUST READ]

Also please read an important correspondence with Gary Leupp , a professor at Tufts University (unrelated to my first letter to you) about the definition of Arabs.

In this letter, I intend to bring your attention to the various errors and misconceptions in your book’s chapter one as well as to some of the wonderfully described objects and anecdotes. I hope you take the liberty of correcting the errors or rewriting the misconceptions and other viewpoints in a way that makes them less-or-non-debatable in the second edition with wishes to you for continued health to see it published.

The objective and intelligent writer, reporter and/or historian, must not get involved in biases and negative thoughts and should report or document with clear vision, compare and contrast without sectarianism, sexism or soap-opera-like stories. Unfortunately some of the documentation provided in your book’s forward by Joel Beinin and in chapter one fit in with these categories.

This brings me to the following points in chapter one of your book, “The Last Jews in Baghdad”:

1. In the first paragraph of page 1, you lamented about the Jews in the Babylonian diaspora, the number of synagogues left, about prayers and Prophet Jeremiah and gave a religious tone to your documentation and feelings. I hope that you are not one of the Israeli Jewish vast majority that though does not believe in God, still believe that God gave the land (of Palestine) to the “promised people”!!

2. In the same paragraph, you stated, “For those who, like myself, were born, grew up, and lived in Baghdad in the years preceding the mass exodus of Jews from Iraq in 1950-51, this state of affairs is extremely hard to imagine.” In this entire chapter, you failed to mention why the mass exodus has happened. You probably mentioned about it in later chapters, but providing few lines briefly explaining why it happened or referring to it being mentioned in chapter ‘so and so’ would have been appropriate. This way, the readers would not be left with question marks and exclamations as they read chapter one.

3. In paragraph two, you provided some of the most disputed and highly debated statistics about Baghdad’s population and its majority and minorities: “In October 1921, a British publication quoted these population figures for the city as given in the last official yearbook of vilayet: Total number of inhabitants 202,000, of whom 80,000 were Jews; 12,000 Christians; 8,000 Kurds; 800 Persians; and 101,400 Arabs, Turks and other Muslims.” This is indeed a stunning work by IRAQ’s occupiers; the Anglo Saxon “uncles” as Iraqis sometime refer to them sarcastically. These statistics are worm cans opener hinting the “Divide to Rule” fragrance of occupation. Here is why: Kurds and Iranians (not Persians as indicated in the statistics) are mostly Moslems, why were they not included with the “Arabs, Turks and other Moslems”? And who are the “other Moslems” included in the so-called 101,400 figure? Moslems of IRAQ are Arabs, Kurds, Iranians and Turkmen (who are Iraq’s Turks). So who are the others? Knowing the fact that several ethnic groups (not just Persians) came from Iran to Iraq, and knowing that the statistics were taken at the beginning of the 20th century during which it was called Iran and not Persia, it is wrong to refer to them as Persians.

The “Divid and Rule” of the current American occupiers has gone farther by neglecting the notion and term of ‘Moslems’ all together. Now they refer to Moslems as Shiites and Sunnis just like Joel Beinin did in your book’s forward. Imagine eliminating the word ‘Jews’ and constantly referring to them as Orthodox and Reformers. I don’t think Jews would like that.

It was equally disturbing, if not funny, to separate (in the statistics above) Jews and Christians from Arabs when Jews are near entirely Arabs (with very few Kurdish and Turkmen exceptions) and the vast majority of Christians are Arabs as well!!

4. Thank you for making me laugh at the British proclamation that states, “A proclamation issued by the British military governor early in 1919 fixed the number of sheep to be slaughtered daily in Baghdad East (al-Risafa, the more populous half of the city) at 220 for Jewish butchers and 160 for Moslems and other butchers.”
It is interesting to read again the British so-called accuracy by using the term “Other”; even butchers have others. And what about Christians? Shame on them they don’t have butchers? J They just buy and eat? What was the significance of this piece of statistics? To present Jews as richer, more spoiled and ate more lamb, and were unfriendly slayers of sheep or to prove that their number in east Baghdad was higher? To include the sheep figures in your book immediately after the paragraph on population figures without commenting on them indicates that the number of killed sheep is used to prove the high number of Jews in Baghdad, which is irrelevant. And what made the British and you, for quoting them, rule out the possibility that Jewish butchers may sell sheep to non-Jews, and the same for Moslem butchers. Another issue of concern is the fact that the sheep figures were only provided for the east part of Baghdad. What about the west side (al-Karkh)?

5. In Hebrew language, the R is pronounced like the French R and like the Arabic sound of the letter ‘ghayn’. Therefore your transliteration of the Arabic-Hebrew word for ‘water well’ in page 4 should have been el-Beer and NOT el-Bigh.

6. I loved your description of hib on page 5, last paragraph: “The hib was a many-faceted device. Apart from keeping the water clean and fit for drinking it also served as a kind of primitive refrigerator. The water was always cool thanks to the breeze, which no matter how burning hot it was itself, always managed to cool the outside of the hib by contact with its damp walls. Moreover the hib, which was rounded and with a narrow base, was placed on a steady wooden “cage” with small holes that, while permitting the draught to circulate inside out, kept the place out of reach of scorpions, cockroaches, snakes, and other intruders from land. It was in this “cage,” qafas, that some of the most valuable necessities were tucked away. Besides the special jug that was placed right under the hib’s base to gather the water dripping therefrom, there was ample space in it to accommodate pots, bottles, and plates containing cooked meals, milk, yogurt, liquid medications, fruits and vegetables, which were preserved in reasonable coolness through the sweltering heat of summer and kept out of harm’s reach. The qafas also prevented the cats from reaching the meats and the milk products.”

I wished your paragraphs about Iraq’s majority and minorities, the Jews’ exodus and other topics mentioned in chapter one were described in the eloquence and extent of details as those awarded to the hib.

7. I also loved the anecdotes you provided about the snakes and how Iraqis dealt with them in paragraph two on page 6, which reads, “It was rare in those days for a house in Baghdad to be free of scorpions and snakes, and in many households it was customary for the head of the family to go to bed only after he had inspected the holes in the walls for snakes. Although destroying scorpions was a duty, killing or harming a snake was strictly forbidden. Usually ground dry leaves of the nice-smelling butnaj were spread on the floor in the belief that snakes cannot stand the smell and consequently refrain from intruding any further. In certain households, again, the mistress of the house left a plate of milk around so that a snake drinking it would become pacified and friendly to members of the household. In such cases the mother chants, “O snake of the house, do not do us harm and we won’t harm you!

A variety of issues came to mind as I read the paragraph about the snakes: One- you did not specify whether the killing of snakes was forbidden due to practice by all Iraqis or only by Jews! Two- it shows that Iraqi households were friendlier to other beings than after the 1960s, as it has been around the world, by living more with machinery and in crowded cities and due to the reduction of green landscape for the sake of construction. Three- it even indicates that Iraqis (like people worldwide) were more understanding of and tolerant with animals than (again) after the 1960s! Four- In English, Butnaj means “Betony”. If you click on this linkبطنج, you will find a detailed and interesting description of butnaj in Arabic.

8. In paragraph three on page 6, you wrote, “One day when I was about four years of age, the head of some little snake somehow came out of one of the holes in a wall in the inner house. Panic reigned; no one dared either to push the snake inside or bring it out. In the end, a certain “professional,” a Muslim living in the neighborhood, was brought to the scene….” Why did you need to indicate that the “professional” was a Moslem?

9. On page 6, last paragraph, you wrote, “The work of clearing the drains and the toilets was considered – and in fact was – the most menial of all menial jobs. It was undertaken almost exclusively by Christians from a certain small town in north of Iraq called Talkeif, but there were also Jews who engaged in the work; but never, never a Muslim. As small children, we used to dub every Christian nazzah , the name Baghdadis gave a man who cleaned drains and toilets. And Iraq’s immortal popular poet and versifier Mulla ‘Abbud al-Karkhi had an unforgettable poem in which he asks, among scores of other rhetorical questions: “Yimkin Mislim yisir nazzah? Yimkin yehudi yisir tcharkhatchi?” (Is it possible for a Muslim to be a latrine cleaner? A Jew to be a night watchman?)

This paragraph is one vivid example of the non-scholarly writing that you have done in your book so far. It is racist, soap-opera type of writing. You failed to analyze it objectively. It showed that your bad-meaning-malice side is live and kicking. Why was such a paragraph necessary to document? Here are some of the errors and points you failed to mention and analyze in this paragraph: Not all Iraqis dubbed Christians as nazzah (or sewage cleaner), not even the majority of Iraqis! They did not dub Christians in general; they dubbed the few who lived in Talkeif. By dubbing every Christian nazzah, as you wrote, you and your Jewish community were racist and disrespectful as well, not just the Moslems especially when, as you indicated, some Jews were working in this menial job! Shouldn’t you dub Jews as well? And where else in the world that such unfair and racist dubbing does not take place? Isn’t this happening in every society? Do you want me to remind you about how non-Jewish Arabs (Christians and especially Moslems) have been dubbed and working in all kinds of odd jobs in their own homeland since the European Jews established the racist and Zionist state of Israel? You are documenting this gossip and soap-opera-like stories while living in Israel. Do you want to document valuable information and provide objective analysis for the readers to appreciate your Jewish community and its accomplishments or do you want to use a writing style that antagonizes others in order to show how victimized you, Jews, have been? If the first was your purpose behind writing this book, this entire paragraph should be deleted with an apology!

10. You are wrong about paragraph three, page 7, which reads, “It is interesting to note here, in parentheses, that in Iraq – and presumably in other parts of the Arabic-speaking world – in those days the appellation Arab was never used to define a person’s identity, and the Jew-Arab opposition we constantly encounter today was never used either in writing or in daily discourse. A Baghdadian was usually said to be a Jew, a Muslim, a Kurd, a Christian, Armenian, Turk, Persian.”
This paragraph is worth deleting. I guess living in the Zionist state of Israel for a long time somehow affected your memory and style of documentation! The information in this short distortion of facts is contradictory to the British statistics you thought worth providing in the first page of this chapter (one). How would they include so many Arabs in the figures of Baghdad’s population if people didn’t identify themselves as Arabs? You are right about the absence of Jew-Arab opposition in writing or in daily discourse at that time, but wrong about the Arab identity in Iraq and in some other Arab countries and about the list you provided showing how a Baghdadi (not Baghdadian) identified him/herself. Additionally, it is important to enlist either only ethnic or only religious groups together in order to be accurate and avoid replication. Enlisting Christian and Armenian means you are repeating yourself since all Armenians are Christians and partially repeating yourself since Armenians are among Christians. The same is true about your inclusion of Moslems, Kurds and Turks together in one list. Remember and never forget the fact that IRAQ is a majority Arab country including Baghdad whether the Americans, British and Israelis like to admit it or not.

Thank you for taking the time to read this (second) letter. I hope you and the publisher of your book take these comments and corrections seriously for the betterment of your wonderful book!
Wishing You Continued Health,

4. Introducing the Historians Behind This Newsletter

5. The Purpose of the IRAQ History Monthly e-Newsletters & How to Join the Group List!

This group focuses on documenting and discussing various fields in IRAQ's history (politics, sciences, religions, law, the arts and other areas). The IRAQ History Group consists of a Writing/Editing Team made of historians and scholars and of Translating Team made of researchers and translators (translating from and to Arabic). The group's e-newsletters will be sent to the group list subscribers on monthly bases.

The purpose of the group list goes beyond documenting to encourage discussions on regular (not daily) bases and the exchange of information and announcements. Those interested in learning about and/or in discussing IRAQ's history are welcome to subscribe, but subscribing to the list does not mean participation in the writing/editing of IRAQ's history. These e-newsletters will eventually be posted on a special website/blog for Internet use. We hope to receive grants/contributions to be able to compensate historians/scholars of the writing/editing team should we invite them to participate in events related to IRAQ's history or for writing essential studies/essays for the purpose of publishing them in journal/book forms and not placed freely on the Internet.

We appreciate your recommendation of two non-Moslem Iraqi women historians to join the writing/editing team.

Writing/Editing Team
(in First-Name Alphabetical Order):

Prof. Abdul Jabbar Naji
Anees Al-Qaisy
Dr. Mahmood Al-Qaisy
Dr. Nada Shabout
Nahar Mohammed Nuri
Ms. Saba Hussein Al-Moula
Dr. Sinan Sadiq Az-Zaidy
Dr. Suhaila Shindi Al-Badri
Tariq Majeed

Translation/Research Team:

Ms. Hanan Mohammed Mahdi
Wafaa’, IRAQ History Group List Moderator

Group Email Addresses