The Iraqi Jews of Dhi Qar were once an important part of the province’s social fabric. Despite controversial claims on land they left behind, older locals still remember their neighbours fondly.
The old man was sitting out in front of the Al Batha cinema in Nasiriyah, basking in the sun just under the star of David that was painted on the cinema’s walls. “This cinema was part of a lot of Jewish-owned property in the city,” the 78-year-old man, who wished to be known only as Abu Jamal, told NIQASH. “But it was taken over by the state and rented out to others, who were not aware of the history and value of the building. They have misused it and they haven’t preserved its history.”
“The old days here were good days,” Abu Jamal continued, before listing the names of his Jewish friends. “We used to spend a lot of time with them, sharing meals and sad and happy occasions.”
There are more than 150 Jewish heritage sites around the province of Dhi Qar, says Abdulamir al-Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist who is currently a visiting researcher at the State University of New York in the US. “There are houses, markets, motels and cultural and religious centres, many of which were built in the early 19th century. Some of them are decorated with the star of David, which indicates their original ownership.”
A man called Jacob Cohen was apparently the last Jew to leave Nasiriyah. In the early 1970s he moved to Basra and was eventually buried there. Another retiree, Haj Salem al-Tuwaili, 80, remembers Cohen, whose nickname was Abu Meer, and says he left behind property where he used to sell and buy wool as well as another building where local goldsmiths used to prepare materials for cleaning gold.