Thursday, May 08, 2008

How Iraq went to war on its Jews

Read this unusual first-hand account of Iraq's 1948 war on its Jews by John Ough, a Canadian serviceman, in the National Post:

"When Israel was born in 1948, the government of Iraq decided things looked safe enough to go to war. A small war. And I was there to watch it happen.

"Protected from the newborn Zionist enemy to the west by an expanse of wild, roadless desert, the Iraqis looked around for closer, more convenient, foes to fight. They found them behind the commercial counters of Iraq's financial institutions, administration offices and other places of business — the harmless, peaceful, Jewish business clerks who kept the wheels of Iraq's national commerce turning in efficient fashion. In a gesture of pan-Arab solidarity, Iraq's government decided to banish these Jews and their families to the newly established State of Israel — which, itself, the Iraqi army was planning to help obliterate, eventually.

"At once, the airport in Basra — Iraq's second city — became the scene of bewildered Jewish innocents lined up with the single suitcase each was allowed to carry. They watched Iraqi customs officers examine their few belongings during a rough search, usually ending with the contents of any jars, bottles or toothpaste tubes being squirted over the whole jumbled-up mess. Then they were piled onto Israel-bound planes and told never to come back.

"They were the lucky ones.

"The more unlucky ones, those with large amounts of money, had their fortunes confiscated. To forestall any possibility of later arguments, they were publicly hanged in the city centre in front of thousands of cheering onlookers and clicking cameras.

"During the following months, business and bank transactions became a comedy of errors, owing to Iraq having so few capable employees left. But the operation was nevertheless declared a complete success. To prove it, for a dinar or two, one could buy a set of photographs of the hangings, including close-ups of still strung-up moldering faces of dead millionaires.

"Having won that battle, the Iraqis then decided to send an armed expeditionary force in the general direction of Israel, so that they might at least arrive in time to tag along behind the soon-to-be triumphant Egyptian and Syrian troops and share in the glory of the planned victory parades in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

"As troop transport was limited, it was decided the bulk of the rank and file would have to march bravely along the constantly shifting desert tracks that crossed the then roadless miles between Baghdad and Damascus.

"The trouble was the rank and file weren't too good at marching. Or even walking. Few had ever worn heavy footwear before. And certainly not the old, ill-fitting, secondhand army boots with which the recruits were outfitted from hopelessly jumbled-up piles cast off by who knows what colonial force. Many a poor date-palm lad answered the call to duty, only to be handed either two left-foot or two right-foot boots --or, if lucky enough to get one right and one left, would probably find they were of differing sizes.

"It was especially painful for the young rural folk of the Shatt-al-Arab region, where generations of treading the extremely soft mud of the river banks had led to the evolution of splayed feet. Suddenly, these poor recruits were ordered to cram their flat feet into warped, ill-fitting boots and march toward Israel with a military gait."

Read article in full

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