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BAGHDAD JEWS from page 21
Perhaps the most dangerous part of
the trip was the run down the lawless,
six-lane highway from the border to
Baghdad where vehicles frequently are
targeted by armed bandits and hijackers.
Baghdad itself, Zelon said, seems to
have suffered as much damage at the
hands of Iraqis as at the hands of
American soldiers, and gunfire is corn-
The chaos in Baghdad has been
worrisome for the city's Jews.
"There is a paradox regarding their
security," Kaye said. "Even though
under the very cruel Saddam Hussein
regime, they were persecuted and had
property confiscated, they were gener-
ally protected. Now, the post-war
instability could lead to serious ques-
tions regarding their safety."
For many families, only their closest
neighbors know they're Jews, Zelon
said. Some of those neighbors are
Muslim or Christian friends who for
years have helped the community's
older members survive.
A few, but not all, of Iraq's Jews plan
to leave to join relatives in England,
Holland or Israel. But it could be a
while before they get there: Iraq's Jews
don't even have passports.
For now, Zelon said, Jewish organi-
zations will focus on helping the com-
Zelon was scheduled to meet Kaye in
Israel to discuss next steps. The Jewish
Agency and HIAS say they are working
together on the project.
World Jewry largely has been power-
less to help Iraqi Jews over the past
half-century. Though Baghdad's lone
synagogue, Meir Tweig, today counts
less than three dozen Jews, the city has
a rich Jewish history.
About 90 percent of the country's
Jews were expelled or fled in the wake
of Israel's founding in 1948. Those
who remained in Iraq — once the
thriving center of diaspora Jewry —
were subjected to regular harassment.
During the Saddam era, many local
Jews saw their property confiscated and
community heirlooms seized by
Saddam's secret police, the Mukhabarat.
Shortly after the war, American forces
stumbled upon a treasure trove of
Jewish artifacts in the basement of the
bombed Mukhabarat headquarters. The
basement was flooded, so American
authorities froze the objects to protect
them from further decay and sum-
moned officials from the U.S. National
Archives to deal with the find.
For the time being, the fate of the
artifacts, like that of Iraq's Jews,
remains unclear. ❑