BAGHDAD, June 27 (Reuters) - A senior Iraqi Shiite cleric has issued a decree, or fatwa, ordering the killing of any Jew who buys real estate in Iraq, an aide has said.
The Iran-based cleric, Ayatollah Kazem Al Husseini Al Haieri, also said in his fatwa that selling real estate to Jews was forbidden for Muslims.
A cleric at Haieri's representative office in the holy city of Najaf said several Iraqis had sought Haieri's religious decree after Jews from abroad approached them over the past six weeks.
"Any Jew who tries, from now on, to buy a lot of land or a house in Iraq should be killed," the decree said. "Selling any lot of land or a house in Iraq to Jews is forbidden."
Haieri's secretary, Sheikh Abu Ali Al Azaie, confirmed during a telephone call from the Iranian city of Qom on Thursday night that Haieri had issued the decree. "The decree is authentic," Azaie said.
Iraqi scholars say Haieri, known for his hardline positions, commands respect and influence in the Shiite community but it was difficult to gauge the size of his following. He is said to be planning to return to Iraq from his self-imposed exile in Iran.
Followers say they will take him as the highest religious leader, a post occupied now by Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani who is regarded as a moderate.
Mustafa Al Yakoubi, the cleric in Najaf, said most of the offers to buy property were made in the Kefl area between Najaf and Kerbala, another holy city about 100 km south of Baghdad.
"The owners were offered very high prices for their property," he said. "When they checked with the real estate agents they found out that the would-be buyers were foreign Jews."
Iraq's Jewish community traces its roots to the deportation of thousands of Jews from Jerusalem some 2,500 years ago, after the city was captured by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar.
For almost 1,000 years, Babylon was the cultural, religious and scholarly centre of the Jewish world. More than 129,000 Iraqi Jews immigrated to Israel after the Jewish state's establishment in 1948.
Jews in Baghdad, estimated to number about 70, keep a low profile. Two Jews in Baghdad said they had felt safe under toppled leader Saddam and their property had not been confiscated.
"We had a quiet life under Saddam," said a 90-year-old Jew who declined to give his name. "We have kept our property during his rule."