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Iraq’s last Jewish doctor, who treated the poor for free, dies in Baghdad

Dr. Thafer Eliyahu, 61, continued to receive patients even when country was being bombed in 2003 Gulf War

Iraqi Jewish doctor Thafer Eliyahu. (Courtesy)
Iraqi Jewish doctor Thafer Eliyahu. (Courtesy)

The last Jewish doctor in Iraq and one of the few remaining Jews in its capital, Baghdad, has died at the age of 61, reports said Tuesday.

Dr. Thafer Eliyahu, an orthopedic doctor at Wasiti Hospital, has been nicknamed “the doctor of the poor” since he treated those who couldn’t afford the costs for free, according to Israel’s Kan public broadcaster and Washington Post Iraq correspondent Mustafa Salim.

During the Gulf War of 2003, he continued to see sick and injured patients even as bombings continued overhead, Kan reported.

Kan said Eliyahu died on Monday of a heart attack, citing a journalist in Baghdad. However, Salim wrote on Twitter that the cause of death was a sudden stroke.

Jews once comprised 40 percent of Baghdad’s population, according to a 1917 Ottoman census.

But after the creation of Israel in 1948, regional tensions skyrocketed and anti-Semitic campaigns took hold, pushing most of Iraq’s Jews to flee.

The roughly 150,000 Jews still in Iraq in 1948 fled fast: By 1951, 96 percent were gone. Staying meant facing growing discrimination and property expropriation.

Following the US-led invasion of 2003, some Jews were flown to Israel on special evacuation flights while others left during the ensuing years of sectarian warfare.

By 2009, there were only eight Jews left in Baghdad, according to diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks.

Many Jewish homes were seized by the Iraqi state before 2003, and Jewish schools, shops and synagogues across the country are mostly crumbling from lack of maintenance.

AFP contributed to this report.

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