by Max Sawdayee


Thursday June 12, 1969

Tonight, in an open-air café on the river front street, while discussing our imminent departure affairs, our TV broadcasting service opens with something unexpected.

Party crony Salah Umar Al-Ali interviews four high officials of the former Nationalists regime.  These men, obviously having been under cruel torture, all admit they have been spies working for the interests of the United States as C.I.A. agents while holding very important and responsible jobs in the government.  One of them, Yousef Al-Mi’imar, a celebrated personality and a well-educated man, even confesses having been out of the country several times to conduct spying activities.  He also lists ten other persons of the former regime, with whom he claims he has contacts in spying assignments!!

Muslims and Christians sitting in the café and watching the TV interview become stunned, disgusted, revolted.  For the first time I see people shouting and howling in the café, in front of all other customers, ‘That’s all fake!  All fake!  It isn’t true!  They’ve tortured them horribly so as to confess!  You blackmailer Al-Ali!’  One of them nervously ordered the waiter to switch the TV off immediately!

Although we Jews are now far from mixing any more in these affairs, being immensely occupied with our own problems ourselves, I can’t feel aloof seeing those unfortunate men, who are my country fellows, being subjected to such an odious, shocking treatment.  It saddens me deeply.  I pay my bill to the waiter and leave for home with my wife and the children, heartily distressed.

Monday June 23, 1969

Out of about three thousand five hundred Jews presently living in Iraq, over two thousand five hundred have already completed their emigration formalities with the authorities, and are currently liquidating their petty affairs to get ready for the trip.

Even the Jews of Basra were granted special permits to come to Baghdad and register for the departure.  They are all very happy to come to the capital and settle here temporarily, waiting for the hour to quit.  Many of them would not like to return to Basra, even for a short visit.

The Jews, a little relieved of tension, look hopefully to the future.  Some of them go to the Tigris for a swim, and to take leave of our most beloved river.  Others, men, women and children, roam the main Rashid Street, one of the most elegant streets in the capital, looking in shops for lovely suits and dresses, underwear, shoes and other things necessary for the coming trip.  But they need cash to buy everything they require for the big journey as well as their daily expenses. As they can’t sell any shares, bonds or immovable property (in spite of the government’s announcement to the contrary), they start to sell whatever they can to obtain the maximum of cash possible.

And that unleashes unusual sales!

Women sell their jewels, gold and silver belongings.  Men sell their home carpets and furniture.  Students sell their books.  And so on!

It isn’t infrequent to meet university students on vacation, and other young men, selling kitchen copper utensils in the copper market, or cotton at fifty Fils (a shilling) a kilo in the used clothes market or in the flea market!

Brother, on vacation, cannot bear hearing father forbidding the sale of anything from the house.  But whenever father is out, brother helps mother look for something to sell.  Copper utensils, cotton out of used pillows and mattresses, or anything else that comes to hand!

Selling such things becomes an amusing obsession to the Jews. It kills time, provides some money and a sort of occupation. 

The government is aware of all this, but does not say a word.  It undoubtedly feels it is not worthwhile making noises about such petty little affairs.

The ways of living and behaviour of the Jews these days resemble those of the time prior to the exodus of the Jews from Pharaoh’s Egypt over three thousand years ago, when every one of them was busily packing, bundling his effects and belongings for the great departure.  Here is a repetition in miniature.

A Christian shopkeeper told me the other day that good suitcases weren’t available in the market!  All had been bought by the Jews!  He added that a fine quality suitcase was worth double its price of three months ago!

We are in a good, light mood.  I meet a number of friends.  We joke about our intended journey.  Our optimism casts aside every cloudy though and feeling.

Tuesday July 8, 1969

For the past few days the news is rather discouraging.

Seven Syrian Mig-21’s are hit by Israelis and downed on the Golan heights this afternoon.  The Syrians, over-zealous to help Egypt, mean to se the heights ablaze again.

Shooting in the Suez Canal zone takes a red-hot pace.  Soldiers of both sides fall by the dozen.  An average of one Egyptian plane is shot down there every day.

Here Rashid Musleh, one of the most distinguished high officers in the Iraqi army, and twice interior minister in the past ten years, appears on TV tonight to make awfully humiliating confessions.  He also implicates many other high army officers, former ministers, and two former prime ministers, in the framed-up charge of collaborating with him in his ‘spying activities’.  The manner this respectful brigadier general looks on TV tonight leaves no doubt that he has undergone the most horrible tortures.  He appears to be suffering so much pain everywhere in his body that he is unable to sit on his chair normally or with any amount of ease.  He painfully moves all the while, wincing every second and seeking relief by continuous physical adjustment.

I feel so sorry for this man, crawling in his chair this way and making all sorts of tics and twitches in his eyes, nose, mouth, in all his face, that I feel inclined to break the TV set in this café and finish with this heart-rending show.  But I become calm when another spectator throws his cigarette packet on the TV and shouts to the waiter to switch it off.

Painful also, is the news I hear from a Christian friend this afternoon regarding our mass departure from Iraq.  He says that the army chiefs categorically object to permitting the Jews to leave the country in the meantime.  Many high members of the Party seem to have changed their minds about that too, and are backing the army chiefs in their objection on this score.  I would like to disbelieve what my friend says, but he convinces me that it is true,

In fact I already heard this news from Jewish friends two days ago, but didn’t believe it.

If that is true, it will be a most damaging blow to our community, and will doubtless be of far-reaching consequences in every viewpoint – social, financial, mental and physical.