Iraqi prof. wants to buy Hebrew books

Foreign Ministry happy to oblige request for literature, books on Israel for planned Hebrew course.

The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that an Iraqi college professor had asked it for a shipment of Hebrew books. Ofir Gendelman of the ministry's Arab press section said the professor sent an e-mail three weeks ago via the ministry's Arabic-language Web site, detailing his plan to teach Hebrew, and requested Hebrew literature and books about Israel. Gendelman said the ministry would be happy to oblige and is awaiting the professor's mailing address. He refused to divulge the professor's identity or that of his college because of concerns for his safety. Iraq sent troops to three Arab wars against Israel, fired Scud missiles at it in the 1991 Gulf War, and remains technically at war with the Jewish state. Iraq's once-thriving Jewish community has shriveled to just a few people, with most having fled after Israel was founded in 1948. An Iraqi lawmaker who attended a counter-terrorism conference in Israel last year, traveling on a German passport, was accused by colleagues at home of humiliating the Iraqi nation with a trip to the "enemy" state. Iraqi diplomats discussed the possibility of improved relations between Israel and Iraq after Saddam Hussein was ousted in the 2003 US-led war, but in 2004, then Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi vowed that Iraq would not break Arab ranks and sign a separate peace deal with Israel. Only two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan, have peace treaties with Israel. In Jerusalem, Gendelman said there is "tremendous ignorance in the Arab world about what Israel is, and they simply want to know more." However Sadiq Abdul-Matalib, the deputy dean of the college of languages at Baghdad University, said that it has a flourishing Hebrew department with about 150 students.