Return of the Exiles
There has been a continuous Jewish presence in Iraq (formerly known as Babylon) for over 2,600 years since before the destruction of the First Temple:
“He [Nebuchadnezzar] deported Yehoyachin to Babylon; and the king’s wives and officers and the notables of the land were brought as exiles from Jerusalem to Babylon.”
(2 Kings 26:15)
The first significant waves of return to Israel were led over 70 years later by Zerubavel, Ezra and then Nehemiah (see Ezra and Nehemiah, 2:1-2, 7:1-9, 2:7-11).
While many Jews returned to Israel to build the Second Temple, the Jewish community in Iraq remained strong. For the next 2,500 years, brave individuals and families made the dangerous trip back home to the Land of Israel, while the majority remained in Iraq.
The first notable return of Iraqi Jews in modern times occurred in the 1920s and 30s, between the two World Wars, with only a few thousand or more coming back.
But after Israel declared independence in 1948, the Iraqi government became more hostile to its Jewish citizens, and Iraqi Jews began returning to the Holy Land en masse.
In response, the State of Israel ran Operation Ezra and Nechemiah in 1951 and 1952, airlifting around 125,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel through Iran and Cyprus.
Only 6,000 Jews remained in Iraq after this operation, and as of March 2021, only three elderly Jews were known to be left in Iraq.