Friday, June 13, 2008

Whatever happened to Iraq's compensation vow?

Three years have passed since the Iraq Properties Claims Commission invited dispossessed Iraqis to claim compensation from the government. In that time, no Jew has yet received a dinar, let alone an acknowledgement that his or her claim form was received. No Arab or Kurdish claimant known to the Jewish community seems to have received anything either, although reports are regularly published in the Iraqi press that tens of thousands of claims have been settled.

The IPCC only deals with claims made against the Ba'athist regime since 1968. Yet Iraqi officials have affirmed that restitution would be made to Jews whose assets and property were frozen before that date.

Replying to a young Jewish questioner at the Iraq-in-Common Forum in May 2006 at the British Foreign Office, the Iraqi consul-general said that when Iraq was back on its economic feet, Jews were entitled to bring individual legal cases for compensation for lost property.

The diplomat cited a case where a stall-holder he knew in a Baghdad market owned by Jews was still paying rent into a frozen account. By some extraordinary coincidence, the Jewish owner of the market happened to be the grandfather of David Kahtan, the young man who had raised the question of restitution.

Although some thought that the restitution money should go towards rebuilding Iraq’s future, many young Muslims and Christians approached David and congratulated him on raising the matter of individual compensation.

The British Foreign Office, with whom David Kahtan engaged in detailed correspondence, sent him a list of Iraqi lawyers who might be able to handle his claim. But the prospect of pursuing a claim in war-torn Iraq when you are in London is a daunting one.

On the premise that the word of Iraqi government officials is their bond, David, whose case was publicised in The Jewish Chronicle, is not giving up. Watch this space.

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