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Farhud (translation from Arabic: "pogrom", "violent dispossession") took place in Iraq on June 1-2, 1941.


Historical background

The Jews lived in the land of Babylon for more than 2,500 years that followed the Babylonian captivity. By 1941, approximately 150,000 Iraqi Jews participated in farming, banking, commerce and the government bureaucracy.

After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the First World War, the League of Nations granted the mandate of Iraq to Britain. After King Ghazi who inherited the throne of Faisal I, died in a 1939 car accident, Britain installed Abdul Illah as Iraq’s governing regent.

The "Golden Square" coup

The mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husayni was charged with terrorism during the Great Uprising and fled the British mandate of Palestine into Iraq on October 13, 1939.

He steered the Iraqi population's resentment of the authorities against the Jews, accusing them of being part of a "Zionist plot" to dominate the Middle East. The mufti allied himself with Hitler, as their anti-semitic ambitions matched and oil-starved Nazi Germany sought to take control over the oil-rich Middle East from Britain.

The mufti's radio broadcasts incited the Iraqi Arabs against the Iraqi Jews. The accusations ranged from Jews being spies to Zionist conspiracy against the Arabs.

In 1940, he conspired with a group of pro-Nazi Iraqi officers, known as the "Golden Square" led by General Rashid Ali, to overthrow the regent. On April 1, 1941, the "Golden Square" staged a coup, forcing the regent to flee. British warplanes stationed in Iraq responded with a series of bombardments against Golden Square forces. The Germans dispatched a group of 26 heavy fighters to aid in an all-out air attack on the British airbase at Habbaniya.

Winston Churchill sent a telegram to President Franklin Roosevelt, warning him that if the Middle East fell to Germany, victory against the Nazis would be a "hard, long and bleak proposition".

In May 1940, the British Foreign Office declined a proposal from the chairman of the Vaad Leumi (Jewish national council in Palestine) that they assassinate al-Husayni, but in November of that year Churchill approved such a plan. In May 1941, several members of the Irgun including its leader David Raziel were released from prison and flown to Iraq for this purpose. The mission was abandoned when Raziel was killed by a German air bomb (Mattar, 1984).

In 1941 the mufti and the "Golden Square" forced the Iraqi Prime Minister, the pro-British Nuri Said Pasha, to resign. In May he declared jihad against Britain.

On May 25, Hitler issued his Order 30, stepping up German offensive operations: "The Arab Freedom Movement in the Middle East is our natural ally against England. In this connection special importance is attached to the liberation of Iraq... I have therefore decided to move forward in the Middle East by supporting Iraq."

On May 30, the British-organized Arab Legion, led by Major John Glubb, known as Glubb Pasha, reached Baghdad in a last-ditch effort, causing the "Golden Square" and their supporters to flee to Iran. The mufti moved to Berlin and spent the rest of World War II supporting the Nazis. (See Amin al-Husayni's Nazi Ties and WWII)

On May 31, Regent Illah prepared to fly back into Baghdad to reclaim his leadership. To avoid the appearance of a British-organized countercoup, the regent entered Baghdad without a British escort. With British forces stationed at the city's outskirts, Baghdad was left in a power vacuum.

June 1-2, 1941

A delegation of Iraqi Jews, sent to meet the Regent Abdul Illah arriving at Baghdad airport, was attacked by the mob as they crossed Al Khurr Bridge. Violence and atrocities quickly spread to the Al Rusafa and Abu Sifyan districts and got worse the next day, when Iraqi policemen joined in. In the afternoon of June 2, British forces quelled the violence by imposing the curfew and shot violators on sight.


As a result of Farhud, more than 200 Jews were killed (some sources put the number as high as 600) and about 2,000 were wounded.

The Farhud marked the turning point for Iraq’s Jews who, following this event, were targeted for violence, persecution, boycotts, confiscations, and near complete expulsion in 1951.

It is estimated that in 2003, the Iraqi Jewish population numbered less than 100. The population of Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa was reduced from about 900,000 in 1948 to less than 8,000 today.

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Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46