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War in Iraq Jewish Groups Help Iraqi Jew Flee Country, Gain Refuge Abroad

April 9, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Imagine Iraq on the verge of war, where Jews are seen as collaborators with the U.S.-led invasion.

Now imagine the plight of a Jew planning his escape.

Iraq places severe restrictions on citizens who want to leave the country — and the few remaining Jews are not permitted to leave, according to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The kingdom’s ruthless “deterrence” policies are well-known: CBS News’ Barbara Walters recently interviewed an Iraqi expatriate who said she had seen, in an Iraqi jail, a torture device for live humans akin to a meat grinder.

But for “Jacob” — not his real name — a shy man in his mid-50s who has spent a lifetime in Baghdad keeping quiet about his Jewish identity, staying was riskier than leaving.

Jacob’s recent retirement as a government engineer meant two things:

He could now obtain a passport, a privilege previously forbidden because of the nature of his work.

He may, however, have outlived his usefulness to the regime, he told the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Given the history of anti-Semitism in Iraq, and the widely held view in the Arab world that the war is being waged at Israel’s behest, Jacob thought he might be in danger when war broke out, a HIAS source said.

With Iraq distracted by the buildup of U.S. troops along its borders, Jacob crossed the frontier just days before America began raining bombs on the country.

His wish was to join his sister and her family, who fled Iraq two years ago for a Western European country.

The Jewish groups who spoke to JTA did so on condition that details that might endanger Jacob or his family would not be revealed.

Copying their escape route through a neighboring country, Jacob posed as a non-Jewish Iraqi and lived with a Christian Arab family once outside Iraq.

He immediately informed his sister of his whereabouts, and she relayed the information to HIAS.

A week later, an undercover HIAS official met Jacob in his country of refuge and put him on a flight to Europe, where he now waits in an apartment secured by HIAS and JDC.

HIAS is seeking special refugee status for Jacob from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees so that he can reach his hoped-for destination.

Jacob could get the special refugee status within a week, but it might take him several months to actually move, as his country of destination has a lengthy procedure for processing refugees, according to HIAS.

In the meantime, the JDC is supplying Jacob with food and other necessities.

Jacob has updated Jewish agencies about the location of the remaining 35 Jews in Iraq, and HIAS and JDC are concerned for their security.

Many of the remaining Jews are elderly and live in or near Baghdad’s synagogue to protect the Torah and other Jewish artifacts.

The agencies are monitoring the Jews’ situation, but the chaos of war has prevented them from taking the Jews out of Iraq.

However, the agencies have notified U.S. officials of the Jewish community’s location so it can be protected during the war — and ultimately so that the Jews, all of whom apparently want to leave Iraq, can be removed.

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