When Iraqi Jews Participated in the Ottoman Government

April 22 2019

Although there are now no more than a handful of Jews in Iraq, the country was once home to one of the oldest of all diaspora communities—dating back to the Babylonian exile of the 6th century BCE. Annie Greene, in a brief history of this community, describes the period when Jews became part of political life:

Iraq became Ottoman territory in the mid-16th century. During the mid-19th century, the Ottoman empire went through modernizing reforms known as the Tanzimat, [which] provided pathways for Iraqi Jews to participate in the Ottoman government. For example, the delegates to provincial administrative councils were required to reflect local religious diversity. For the province containing the city of Baghdad, [with its large non-Muslim population], there had to be Jewish delegates to the provincial administrative council, as well as Christians and Muslims.

The provincial councils served as good practice to incorporate Jews into the Ottoman governing structure. The first Ottoman parliament in 1877–78 included a Jewish member, Menahim Salih Efendi Daniyal, among the four who were sent from Baghdad. After the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, Sasson Efendi Hasqail was elected to the parliament for Baghdad and was returned to this seat twice more until the dissolution of the empire in 1918. In contrast to the situation for provincial councils, there were no mandatory religious quotas for parliamentary seats. That Menahim Salih Efendi and Sasson Efendi were elected in their respective parliamentary eras speaks to their status as individuals from prominent families and the way elite Jewish men were viewed in Ottoman-Iraqi political society.

The situation had changed radically by 1941, when bloody pogroms broke out throughout the country, ushering in a period of fierce anti-Semitism and persecution of Iraqi Jews.

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More about: Babylonian Jewry, Iraq, Iraqi Jewry, Ottoman Empire

A Better Syria Strategy Can Help Achieve the U.S. Goal of Countering Iran

While the Trump administration has reversed much of its predecessor’s effort to realign Washington with Tehran, and has effectively used sanctions to exert economic pressure on the Islamic Republic, Omar Hassino argues that these measures might not be enough:

Iran and its militias control more territory and natural resources in Syria and Iraq than before President Trump took office. . . . The U.S. should back the low-cost insurgency approach that has already shown potential in southwest Syria to bleed the Iranian forces and increase the costs of their expansion and [of Tehran’s] support for the Assad regime. It makes no sense that Iran can fund low-cost insurgencies to bleed American allies in the region, but the United States cannot counter with the same. The administration should also consider expanding support to the proxy forces that it currently works with—such as the Revolution Commandos near the [U.S.] al-Tanf garrison in southwest Syria—for the purpose of fighting and eliminating Iranian-backed militias. This limited escalation can curb Iranian expansion and put pressure on the Assad regime in the long term.

Furthermore, in this vein, the U.S. should empower peaceful Syrian civil-society groups and local councils operating outside Assad-regime control. Last year, the Trump administration eliminated assistance for stabilization in Syria, including funding going to secular anti-Assad civil-society groups that were also combating al-Qaeda’s ideology, as well as the Syrian [medical and civil-defense group known as] the White Helmets, before quickly [restoring] some of this funding. Yet the funding has still not completely been resumed, and if this administration takes an approach similar to its predecessor’s in relying on regional powers such as Turkey, these powers will instead fund groups aligned ideologically with Muslim Brotherhood. This is already happening in Idlib.

The United States must [also] jettison the Obama-era [strategy of establishing] “de-escalation zones.” These zones were from the start largely a Russian ruse to help the Assad regime conquer opposition areas, and they succeeded. Now that the regime controls most of Syria and Iranian proxies are dominant within the regime side, support for de-escalation is tantamount to support for Iranian expansion. The United States must [instead] prevent further expansion by the Assad regime and Iran in parts of the country that they still do not control.

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More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy