Muslims save Baghdad's Jewish community centre from looters
April 14 2003
Iraqi Muslims came to the aid of Baghdad's tiny Jewish community yesterday, chasing out looters trying to sack its cultural centre in the heart of the capital.
"At 3am, I saw two men, one with a beard, on the roof of the Jewish community house and I cried out to my friend, 'Hossam, bring the Kalashnikovs!'" said Hassam Kassam, 21.
Heither Hassan nor Hossam, who is the guard at the centre, was armed at the time but the threat worked in scaring off the intruders.
Two hours later, the looters returned again and Hassan Kassem used the trick once more.
The centre is located in a freshly-painted white house on a lane off Rashid Street in Baghdad's old town.
Two days ago, amid rampant looting in the capital, neighbours removed the sign reading 'Special Committee for the Religious Affairs of Ezra Menahem Daniel' to make the premises less conspicuous.
On Saturday at about 10.30am, two men seized an opportunity created by the guard's mid-morning break to try to force open the door in a first attempt to burgle the centre.
"We came over right way and asked them what they wanted," said Abdallah Nurredin, 50.
They tried to explain that they wanted to talk to the guard, Nurredin said, "but when they saw the look we were giving them, they left without saying another word".
Yesterday, Hossam the guard left to look for a real gun in case the persistent thieves returned.
"The Jews have always lived here, in this house, and it is only normal that we should protect them," said Ibrahim Mohamad, 36, who works in a small undergarments factory near the centre of town.
Although the majority of Jews fled the country in the early 1950s, many of their Muslim tenants come each week to pay their rent to an old woman at the centre, Mohamad said.
In the Batauin district near the Saddun commercial artery, the entrance of a large synagogue is blocked by an immense iron portal.
The way onto the street is obstructed by trees and chairs. A self-defence militia formed on Saturday to fight back against bandits.
"We are defending the synagogue like all houses on the street and we will not let anyone touch it," said Edward Benham, a 19-year-old computer science student.
The young Christian said that Jews normally came each Saturday but because of the lingering security problem, no one came last Saturday.