1950-1951 Baghdad bombings

1950–1951 Baghdad bombings
Location Baghdad, Kingdom of Iraq
Date April 1950 - June 1951
Target Iraqi Jews
Attack type Bombings
Deaths 3-4 Iraqi Jews killed
Injured (non-fatal) dozens wounded


  • Arab extremists
  • Zionist agents
  • Baathists
  • 28 Jews and 9 Arabs arrested by authorities; 2 Jews were executed.

1950–1951 Baghdad bombings refers to the bombing of Jewish targets in Baghdad, Iraq, between April 1950 and June 1951. In the wake of these incidents, Iraqi authorities arrested 28 Jews and 9 Arabs on charges of espionage and illegal arms possession.

The question of who was to blame for the attacks has drawn considerable disagreement. Some historians assign responsibility for the bombings to anti-Jewish Arab extremists while others charge a Zionist extremist underground movement of carrying out the attacks in order to encourage Iraqi Jews to immigrate to Israel.

Two suspected Iraqi Jews were found guilty by an Iraqi court for the bombing, and were sentenced to death. Another was sentenced to life imprisonment and seventeen more were given long prison sentences.[1]


Before the exodus of Jews to Israel, there were about 140,000 Iraqi Jews. Most lived in Baghdad, of which Jews made up a sixth of the city's population. High Jewish populations also existed in the towns of Basra and Mosul.[2]

Iraqi Jews constitute one of the world's oldest and most historically significant Jewish communities. By 1936, there was an increased sense of insecurity among the Jews of Iraq. The rise of pan-Arab nationalism coincided with the second King Faisal's admiration of Nazism. In 1941 after the government of pro-Nazi Rashid Ali was defeated, his soldiers and policemen, aided by the Arab mob, started the Farhud ("violent dispossession").[3] A government commission later reported that at least 180 Jews had been killed and 240 wounded, 586 Jewish businesses pillaged, and 99 Jewish homes burned.[4] Jewish sources claimed much higher casualties.

In the summer of 1948, the Iraqi government declared Zionism a capital offense and fired Jews in government positions.[5] In his autobiography, Sasson Somekh, a Baghdadi Jew, wrote:
Emigration until 1946 or 1947 was infrequent, despite the growing feeling among Iraqi Jews that their days in the Land of the Two Rivers were numbered. By the time war broke out in Palestine in 1948, many civil servants had been dismissed from their governmental jobs. Commerce had declined considerably, and the memory of the Farhud, which had meanwhile faded, returned.[6]
At this time, he writes, "hundreds of Jews... were sentenced by military courts to long prison sentences for Zionist and Communist activity, both real and imagined. Some of the Baghdadi Jews who supported the Zionist movement began to steal across the border to Iran, from where they were flown to Israel."[7]

Elie Kedourie writes that after the 1948 show trial of Shafiq Ades, a respected Jewish businessman, who was publicly hanged in Basra,[7] Iraq Jews realized they were no longer under the protection of the law and there was little difference between the mob and Iraqi court justice.[8]

By 1949, the Iraqi Zionist underground was smuggling Iraqi Jews out of the country at the rate of 1,000 a month.[9] In March 1950, Iraq passed a law stripping Jews who emigrated of their Iraqi citizenship. The law was motivated by economic considerations (the property of departing Jews reverted to the state treasury) and a sense that Jews were a potentially troublesome minority that the country would be better off without. (p. 91) Israel was initially reluctant to absorb so many immigrants, (Hillel, 1987) but in March 1951 organized Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, an airlift to Israel, and sent in emissaries to encourage Jews to leave.

Bombing incidents

  • On 19 March 1950, a bomb exploded in the American Cultural Center and Library wounding some of the Jewish intellectuals using the facilities.[10]
  • In April, 1950, a bomb was thrown into El-Dar El-Bida Coffee shop in Baghdad. Four Jews were injured in the blast.[1]
  • On 10 May 1950, a grenade was thrown at Beit-Lawi Automobile company building, a company with Jewish ownership.[10]
  • On 3 June 1950, a grenade exploded in El-Batawin, then a Jewish area of Baghdad, with no casualties.
  • On 5 June 1950, a bomb went off next to the Jewish Stanley Sashua building on El Rasjid Street. Nobody was injured.[10]
  • On 14 January 1951, a grenade damaged a high-voltage cable outside Masouda Shem-Tov Synagogue. Three,[1] or four[11] Jews were killed, including a 12-year old boy, and ten were wounded.[11]
  • In March 1951, the US legation's information office was attacked.[1]
  • In May 1951, a Jewish home was attacked.[1]
  • In June 1951, a Jewish shop was attacked.[1]

Responsibility for the bombings

There has been debate over whether the bombs were in fact planted by the Mossad in order to encourage Iraqi Jews to immigrate to the newly created state of Israel or whether they were the work of Arab anti-Jewish extremists in Iraq. The issue has been the subject of lawsuits and inquiries in Israel.[12] Historian Moshe Gat,[13] historian Esther Meir-Glitzenstein and a 1960 inquiry by the Mossad have found no Jewish involvement in the bombings. Historian Abbas Shiblak, Iraqi Jew Naeim Giladi and CIA agent Wilbur Crane Eveland[14] have argued that Jews were involved in the bombings.

Alleged Iraqi involvement

Israeli historian Moshe Gat believes that the attacks were the work of Arab extremists and sees little connection between the bombings and exodus.[2][13][15] Gat wrote that frantic Jewish registration for denaturalisation and departure was driven by knowledge that the denaturalisation law was due to expire in March 1951. He also noted the influence of further pressures including the property-freezing law and continued anti-Jewish disturbances, which raised the fear of large-scale pogroms. According to Gat it was highly unlikely the Israelis would have taken such measures to accelerate the Jewish evacuation given that they were already struggling to cope with the existing level of Jewish immigration.

Gat also raised serious doubts about the guilt of the alleged Jewish bomb throwers. An Iraqi army officer known for his anti-Jewish views was originally arrested for the offenses, but never charged, after explosive devices similar to those used in the attack on the Jewish synagogue were found in his home. The 1950–1951 bombings followed a long history of anti-Jewish incidents in Iraq and the prosecution was not able to produce a single eyewitness. Shalom Salah told the court that he had confessed after being severely tortured.[16] Gat believes the perpetrators were members of the anti-Jewish Istiqlal Party.

Historian Esther Meir-Glitzenstein, in her book, Zionism in an Arab Country: Jews in Iraq in the 1940s also holds that the charges against the Jews were "groundless for several reasons." Many thousands of Iraqi Jews had already registered to leave. She believes that the arrests and judgments were part of a ploy the Iraqi government used to demonstrate it was not "helping Israel" by letting Jews leave. According to Meir-Glitzenstein, the "Palestinian Arabs adopted the allegation of Israeli terrorism in order to counter Israeli claims that Jewish survival in Islamic countries was no longer possible due to antisemitism, discrimination, persecution, and even expulsion."[17]

Alleged Israeli involvement

Israeli government has always denied any link to Baghdad bombings, and blaimed Iraqi nationalists for the attacks on the Iraqi Jews.

Palestinian historian Abbas Shiblak believes that the attacks were committed by Zionist activists and that the attacks were the pre-eminent reason for the subsequent exodus of Iraqi Jews to Israel.[18] Shiblak also argues that the attacks were an attempt to sour Iraq-American relations, saying "The March 1951 attack on the US Information Centre was probably an attempt to portray the Iraqis as anti-American and to gain more support for the Zionist cause in the United States[2]".

The Iraqi Jewish anti-Zionist[19] author Naeim Giladi maintains that the bombings were "perpetrated by Zionist agents in order to cause fear amongst the Jews, and so promote their exodus to Israel."[20] This theory is shared by Uri Avnery,[21] and Marion Wolfsohn.[21] Giladi claims that it is also supported by Wilbur Crane Eveland, a former senior officer in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in his book Ropes of Sand.[14]

According to Eveland, whose information was presumably based on the Iraqi official investigation, which was shared with the US embassy,[1] "In an attempt to portray the Iraqis as anti-American and to terrorize the Jews, the Zionists planted bombs in the U.S. Information Service library and in the synagogues. Soon leaflets began to appear urging Jews to flee to Israel... most of the world believed reports that Arab terrorism had motivated the flight of the Iraqi Jews whom the Zionists had 'rescued' really just in order to increase Israel’s Jewish population."[14]

Allegedly, identical tactics were used later in 1954 by Israeli military intelligence in operation Suzanna,[14] when a group of Zionist Egyptian Jews attempted to plant bombs in an US Information Service library, and in a number of American targets Cairo and Alexandria. According to Teveth, they were hoping that the Muslim Brotherhood, the Communists, 'unspecified malcontents' or 'local nationalists' would be blamed for their actions[22] and this would undermine Western confidence in the existing Egyptian regime by generating public insecurity and actions to bring about arrests, demonstrations, and acts of revenge, while totally concealing the Israeli factor. The operation failed, the perpetrators were arrested by Egyptian police and brought to justice, two were sentenced to death, several to long term imprisonment.

The British Embassy in Baghdad assessed that the bombings were carried out by Zionist activists trying to highlight the danger to Iraqi Jews, in order influence the State of Israel to accelerate the pace of Jewish emigration. Another possible explanation offered by the embassy was that bombs were meant to change the minds of well-off Jews who wished to stay in Iraq.[11]

Arthur Neslen's recently published book "Occupied Minds" contains an interview with the convicted bomber Yehuda Tajar, in which he recalls a conversation with the widow of Beit-Halahmi, a fellow Mossad agent. She implied that Beit-Halahmi, on his own initiative, and without orders from Israel, organized attacks after his colleagues were arrested in order to cast doubt on their guilt.[11]

In April 1950, an activist of Mossad LeAliyah Bet, Shlomo Hillel, using the alias Richard Armstrong, flew from Amsterdam to Baghdad as a representative of the American charter company Near East Air Transport, to organize an airlift of Iraq Jews to Cyprus. In fact, Near East Air Transport was owned by the Jewish Agency and the Jews were taken to Israel, not Cyprus.[5] Earlier, Hillel had trained Zionist militants in Baghdad under the alias Fuad Salah. According to Adam Shatz, the Mossad had been promoting Jewish emigration since 1941 and used stories of Jewish mistreatment to encourage the Jews to leave.[5] Mordechai Ben Porat, founder and chair of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, who was coordinating Jewish emigration at the time, was accused of orchestrating a bombing campaign to speed up the Jewish exodus from Iraq. Porat sued the journalist for libel, ending in an out-of-court compromise and an apology by the journalist.[12] In his 1996 book "To Baghdad and Back," Ben-Porat published the full report of a 1960 investigation committee appointed by David Ben-Gurion, which found no proof that Jews were involved in the bombing.[23] Yehuda Tajar, who spent ten years in Iraqi prison for his alleged involvement in the bombings, said they were carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Tajar, the widow of one of the Jewish activists, Yosef Beit-Halahmi, implied he had organized attacks after his colleagues were arrested for the Masuda Shemtov synagogue bombing, to prove that those on trial were not the perpetrators.[11]

Effects on Iraqi Jewish emigration

In March 1950 the government of Iraq passed the Denaturalisation Act that allowed Jews to emigrate if they renounced their Iraqi citizenship. Iraqi prime minister Tawfiq al-Suwaidi expected that 7,000–10,000 Jews out of the Iraqi Jewish population of 125,000 would leave.[5] A few thousand Jews registered for the offer before the first bombing occurred.[2] The first bombing occurred on the last day of Passover, 8 April 1950. Panic in the Jewish community ensued and many more Jews registered to leave Iraq. The law expired in March 1951 but was extended after the Iraqi government froze the assets of departing Jews, including those who had already left. Between the first and last bombing almost the entire Jewish community bar a few thousand had registered to leave the country.[2][5] The emigration of Jews was also due to the deteriorating status of Jews in Iraq since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war as they were suspected of being disloyal to Iraq. They were treated with threats, suspicion and physical assaults and were portrayed by the media as a fifth column.[5] By 1953, nearly all Jews had left the country.[5] In his memoir of Jewish life in Baghdad, Sasson Somekh writes: "The pace of registration for the citizenship waiver was slow in the beginning, but it increased as tensions rose between Jews and their neighbors and after acts of terror were perpetrated against Jewish businesses and institutions – especially the Mas'uda Shem-Tov Synagogue...This was the place to which emigrating citizens were required to report with their luggage before leaving for Israel."[24]

See also



External links

  • on the 1950 synagogue bombing in Baghdad
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