The newly elected Iraqi leader, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said that Jews, who were expelled decades ago, are welcome to return, Newsweek reported Tuesday.
Al-Sadr, who recently formed an alliance with a pro-Iranian political bloc, said that "If [Jews'] loyalty was to Iraq, they are welcome.” He stated that Jews who wanted to return would receive full citizenship rights. Currently, the Iraqi constitution does not recognize Judaism as one of the country's official religions.
Iraq’s Jewish community is one of the most ancient in the world. Before Jews either left or were displaced from Iraq following the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, they accounted around two percent of the country's population, around 150,000 strong. In 1951 most Iraqi Jews immigrated to Israel, to be followed in the following decades by the few thousand who remained. All in all, Iraq expelled 120,000 Jews, and today few Jews remain.
Al-Sadr's political bloc, the Sairoon Alliance, won the largest number of parliamentary seats in elections in mid-May. Al-Sadr then announced that he was teaming up with a pro-Iranian political bloc, the National Iraqi Alliance, led by Hadi al-Amiri, in order to form a coalition.
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The comments from the cleric come amidst political upheaval in Iraq, as the country is still reeling from a contentious election, which members of the political opposition have alleged was rigged.
Al-Sadr's comments welcoming Jews are not new. He made similar remarks in a 2013 interview, saying he "welcomes any Jew who prefers Iraq to Israel and there is no difference between Jews, Muslims or Christians when it comes to the sense of nationalism. Those who do not carry out their national duties are not Iraqis even if they were Shiite Muslims."