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14 Jews Languishing in Baghdad’s Notorious Kasr El Nihaya Prison

January 9, 1973
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The situation of the tiny remnant of Iraq’s Jewish community has worsened in recent months, it was reported here today. According to A.S. Karlikow, European Director of the American Jewish Committee, two Iraqi Jews were arrested in Nov. and three more at the end of Dec. bringing to 14 the number of Jews incarcerated in Baghdad’s notorious Kasr el Nihaya prison. Karlikow said that information from Iraq indicates that two or three of the eight Jews arrested last Sept. may have died in prison and may have been victims of torture. Another Jew, Akram Behar, has been imprisoned since 1969.

Karlikow reported, “The latest arrests and certain parallels with the situation in Jan. 1969–when the Iraqi government hung nine Jews in public squares–point to the chilling prospect that Baghdad again is preparing trials in which Jews will be made the convenient scapegoats for internal Iraqi difficulties and power struggles.”

He said that one ominous sign was the Baghdad government’s swift confiscation of the assets and properties of the recently arrested Jews. In the past such actions were taken only against Jews who left the country or, as in Dec. 1969, against Jews who were jailed pending trials that resulted in the mass hangings, Karlikow said.

He noted that the recent moves against Iraqi Jews were unexpected inasmuch as the Iraqi authorities had been following a more moderate line toward Jews since May, 1971. Although under surveillance and control, Jews were being permitted gradually to leave the country and local harassment of them was muted. As a result of the more moderate emigration policy, only 500 Jews now remain in Iraq. Karlikow said, “a pitiful remnant of what was, some 25 years ago, one of the most important Jewish communities in the Middle East, 120,000 strong.”


The AJ Committee’s European Director said the situation began to deteriorate last Sept. when eight Jews were suddenly arrested and a prominent member of the Jewish community, Abraham Zayeg, was found murdered in his Baghdad home. The murder remains unsolved. Karlikow said that reports early in Dec. that the eight Jews had been freed proved to be premature. He said the reports had been based on assurances from Iraqi officials which turned out to be worthless.

“Today, every Jew in Baghdad lives in fear of arrest, according to information reaching us,” Karlikow said. He said the sudden reversal of policy toward the Jews in Iraq was a consequence of a power struggle within the Iraqi leadership, economic difficulties and unresolved troubles with Iraq’s Kurdish minority. According to Karlikow, “rumors of forthcoming trials (of Jews) to appease the population are rife.”

Karlikow reported that many of the Jews who passed through Iraqi jails prior to May, 1971, were subjected to torture and several died or conveniently “disappeared.” The reputation of Kasr-el Nihaya prison (“The Palace of No Return”) is a particularly grim one, Karlikow said.

He identified the Jews arrested last Sept as Dr. Ezra Azzam. Jacob Abdul Aziz, Victor David Ezra, Jacob Rajwan, Shaoul Rajwan, Azouri Shemesh, Shaoul Shemesh, and one Jew not positively identified but probably Salim Ishayek from Basra. The Jews arrested last Nov. are Salim Sadka and Naji Chitayat. The names of the three arrested in Dec. are not known.

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