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Al-Baṣrah ( ; BGN: Al Basrah, also called Basorah) is the capital of Basra Provincemarker, Iraqmarker, and had an estimated population of 3,800,200 as of 2009. Basra is also Iraq's main port, although it is incapable of deep water access, which is handled at the the port of Umm Qasrmarker. The city is the historic location of Sumer, the home of Sinbad the Sailor, and a proposed location of the Garden of Eden. It also played an important role in early Islamic history, being built in 636 CE, or 14 AH. It is Iraq's second largest and most populous city after Baghdadmarker.


The city is located along the Shatt al-Arabmarker waterway near the Persian Gulfmarker, from the Persian Gulf and from Baghdadmarker, Iraq's capital and largest city.

The area surrounding Basra has substantial large petroleum resources and many oil wells. The city also has an international airport, which recently began restored service into Baghdad with Iraqi Airways—the nation's flag airline. Basra is in a fertile agricultural region, with major products including rice, maize corn, barley, pearl millet, wheat, dates, and livestock. Iraq has the worlds largest oil reserves estimated to be more 360 billion barrels, most of it from Basra. 80% of Basra is unexplored.

In Basra 99.9% of the population are ethnically Arabs. All the Arabs in Basra belong to the Adnanite or the Qahtanite tribes. The main tribes that are located in Basra are Al-Emarah , Bani Tamim, Bani Assad, Bani Ka'ab, Bani Malikmarker, Shammar, Bani Khalid, Bani Sa'ad, Al-shwelat Anniza, Suwa'id, Al-bo Mohammed, Al-Jboor, Duwasir, Dhufair, Shreefat, Al-Badr, Al-Ubadi, Ruba'ah Sayyid tribes (descendants of Prophet Muhammed) and hundreds of Arab tribes.Muslim adherents of the area are primarily members of the Jafari Shi'a sect. A sizable number of Sunnis, around 20%, also live there as well as a small number of Christians. There are also remnants of the pre-Islamic gnostic sect of Mandaeans, whose headquarters were in the area formerly called Suk esh-Sheikh and they are a small community of 3000 people or less.

A network of canals flowed through the city, giving it the nickname "The Venice of the Middle East" at least at high tide. The tides at Basra fall by about . For a long time, Basra was known for the superior quality of its dates.

A Canal in Basra circa 1950


First millennium

636: Founding

The present city was founded in 636 as an encampment and garrison for the Arab tribesmen constituting the armies of amir `Umar ibn al-Khattab, a few kilometres south of the present city, where a tell still marks its site. While defeating the Sassanid forces there, the Muslim commander Utba ibn Ghazwan first set up camp there on the site of an old Persian settlement called Vaheštābād Ardašīr, which was destroyed by the Arabs. The name Al-Basrah, which in Arabic means "the over watching" or "the seeing everything", was given to it because of its role as a Military base against the Sassanid empire. Other sources however say its name originates from the Persian word Bas-rāh or Bassorāh meaning "where many ways come together"..

639: Abu-Musa al-Asha'ari

Umar established this encampment as a city with five districts, and appointed Abu-Musa al-Asha'ari as its first governor. Abu Musa led the conquest of Khuzestanmarker from 639 to 642. After this, `Umar ordered him to aid `Uthman ibn Abu al-`As, then fighting Iran from a new, more easterly misr at Tawwaj.

650: `Abdallah ibn `Amir

In 650, the amir `Uthman reorganised the Persian frontier, installed `Abdallah ibn `Amir as Basra's governor, and put the invasion's southern wing under Basra's responsibility. Ibn `Amir led his forces to their final victory over Yazdegard III, king of Persia. Basra accordingly had few quarrels with `Uthman and so, in 656, sent few men to the embassy against him. On `Uthman's murder, Basra refused to recognise `Ali ibn Abu Talib; instead supporting the Meccan aristocracy then led by `Aisha, al-Zubayr, and Talha. `Ali defeated this force at the Battle of the Camel.

In 656, the Sayabiga (possibly of Indian/Indonesian origin) were ordered to guard the treasury.

6??: `Uthman ibn Hanif

Ali first installed `Uthman ibn Hanif as Basra's governor and then `Abd Allah ibn `Abbas. These men held the city for `Ali until the latter's death in 661.

661: Umayyad `Abd Allah

The Sufyanids held Basra until Yazid I's death in 683. Their first governor there was an Umayyad `Abd Allah, who proved to be a great general (under him, Kabul was forced to pay tribute) but a poor mayor.

661: Ziyad ibn Abu Sufyan

In 664, Mu`awiyah replaced him with Ziyad ibn Abu Sufyan, often called "Ibn Abihi (son of his own [unknown] father)", who became famed for his Draconian methods of public order.

673: Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziyad

On Ziyad's death in 673, his son Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziyad became governor. In 680, Yazid I ordered Ubayd Allah to keep order in Kufa as a reaction to Hussein ibn `Ali's, The Prophet Mohammad's grandson, popularity there; Hussein sent his cousin as an ambassador to the people of Kufa, but Ubayd Allah executed Hussein's cousin Muslim ibn Aqeel amidst fears of an uprising.

684: Abd-Allah ibn al-Harith

In 683, Abd Allah ibn Zubayr cemented his status as a caliph in the Hijaz. In 684 the Basrans forced Ubayd Allah to take shelter with Mas'ud al-Azdi and chose Abd Allah ibn al-Harith as their governor. Ibn al-Harith swiftly recognised Ibn al-Zubayr's claim, and Ma'sud made a premature and fatal move on Ubayd Allah's behalf; and so `Ubayd Allah felt obliged to flee.

Ibn al-Harith spent his year in office trying to put down Nafi' ibn al-Azraq's Kharijite uprising in Khuzestanmarker. Islamic tradition condemns him as feckless abroad and corrupt at home, but praises him on matters of doctrine and prayer.

684: Umar ibn Ubayd Allah

In 685, Ibn al-Zubayr required a practical man, and so appointed Umar ibn Ubayd Allah ibn Ma'mar

684: Mus`ab ibn al-Zubayr

Finally, Ibn al-Zubayr appointed his own brother Mus`ab. In 686, the self-proclaimed prophet Mukhtar led an insurrection at Kufa, and put an end to Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad near Mosulmarker. In 687, Mus`ab defeated Mukhtar, with the help of Kufans whom Mukhtar had exiled .

684: Al-Hajjaj

`Abd al-Malik reconquered Basra in 691, and Basra remained loyal to his governor al-Hajjaj during Ibn Ash`ath's mutiny 699-702. However, Basra did support the rebellion of Yazid ibn al-Muhallab against Yazid II during the 720s. In the 740s, Basra fell to al-Saffah of the `Abbasids.

Abbasid dynasty

During the time of the Abbasid dynasty Basra became an intellectual centre as it was the home city of the Arab universal genius Ibn al-Haytham, the Arab literary giant al-Jahiz, and the Sufi mystic Rabia Basri.

Zanj Rebellion led by Ali bin Muhammad, or Sahib az-Zanji

This was a rebellion by the low land slaves who were agricultural slaves, brought from different fringes of the empire.

In 871, the Zanj sacked Basra.

In 923, the Qarmatians, an extremist Muslim sect, invaded and devastated Basra (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

In 965, Alhazen, was born in Basra.

From 945 to 1055, a Buwayhid dynasty ruled Baghdad and most of Iraq (from Buwayhid page). Abu al Qasim al Baridis, who still controlled Basra and Wasit, were defeated and their lands taken by the Buyids in 947.

Daylamite period

Sanad Al-Daula (al-habashi) was the governor of Basra and built a library of 15,000 books.Diya' al-Dawla was the Buyid ruler of Basra during the 980s. He was the son of 'Adud al-Dawla: see Samsam al-Dawla page for more details as there appears to have been a great deal of rivalry in the al-Daula group.

Second millennium

Seljuk period

The Great Friday Mosque was constructed in Basra.

In 1122, Zengi received Basra as a fief. (Penny Encyclopedia)

In 1126, Zengi suppressed a revolt.

In 1129, Dabis looted the Basra state treasury.

A 1200 map "on the eve of the Mongol invasions" shows the Abbasid Caliphate as ruling lower Iraq, and presumably Basra.

In 1258, the Mongols sacked Bagdhad and end Abbasid reign. By some accounts, Basra capitulated to the Mongols to avoid a massacre.

The Mamluk Bahri Dynasty map (1250–1382) shows Basra as being under their area of control, and the Mongol Dominions map (1300-1405) shows Basra as being under their control.

In 1290, Buscarello_de_Ghizolfi page: internal fight erupted at the Persian Gulf port of Basra among the Geneose (between the Guelfe and the Gibelin families).

In 1327, Ibn Battuta visited Basra, which was in decline with the great mosque being 2 miles out of town. An Ilkhanid Governor received him.

In 1411, Jalayrid leader was ousted from Basra by Kara Koyunlu of the Black Sheep Turkmen.

In 1523, the Portuguese Antonio Tenreiro crossed from Aleppo to Basra.

By 1546, the Turks had reached Basra.

In 1550, the Portuguese threatened Basra.

In 1624, the Portuguese assisted Basra Pasha in repelling a Persian invasion. The Portuguese were granted a share of customs and freedom from tolls.

From about 1625 until 1668, Basra and the Delta marshlands were in the hands of local chieftains independent of the Ottoman administration at Baghdad.

1668: Ottoman Empire

Basra was, for a long time, a flourishing commercial and cultural centre. It was captured by the Ottoman Empire in 1668. It was fought over by Turks and Persians and was the scene of repeated attempts at resistance.

1775-1779 Zands

The Zand Dynasty under Karim Khan Zand briefly occupies Basra after a long siege

1911: Ottoman Empire

In 1911, the Encyclopaedia Britannica reported some Jews and a few Christians living in Basra, but no Turks other than Ottoman officials. The wealthiest and most influential personage in Basra was the nakib, or marshal of the nobility (i.e. descendants of the family of the prophet, who are entitled to wear the green turban). In 1884 the Ottomans responded to local pressure from the Shi'as of the south by detaching the southern districts of the Baghdad vilayet and creating a new vilayet of Basra.

1914 : World War I

After the Battle of Basra during World War I, the occupying Britishmarker modernized the port (works designed by Sir George Buchanan), which became the principal port of Iraq.

1939 : World War II

During World War II it was an important port through which flowed much of the equipment and supplies sent to Russiamarker by the other allies. At the end of the second world war the population was some 93,000 people.

1945-1990: peacetime and the Iran–Iraq War

The University of Basrahmarker was founded in 1964.

By 1977, the population had risen to a peak population of some 1.5 million. The population declined during the Iran–Iraq War, being under 900,000 in the late 1980s, possibly reaching a low point of just over 400,000 during the worst of the war. The city was repeatedly shelled by Iranmarker and was the site of many fierce battles, such as Operation Ramadan and Operation Karbala 5.

1991: Persian Gulf War

After the first Persian Gulf War (See Operation Desert Storm by the US.) in 1991, Basra was the site of widespread revolt against Saddam Hussein, which was violently put down with much death and destruction inflicted on the city.

1999: Second revolt

On January 25, 1999, Basra was the scene of scores of civilian casualties when a missile fired by a U.S. warplane was dropped in a civilian area. Eleven persons were killed and fifty-nine injured. General Anthony Zinni, then commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, acknowledged that it was possible that "a missile may have been errant". While such casualty numbers pale in comparison to later events, the bombing occurred one day after Arab foreign ministers, meeting in Egypt, refused to condemn four days of air strikes against Iraq in December 1998. This was described by Iraqi information minister Human Abdel-Khaliq as giving the United States and Britain "an Arab green card" to attack Iraq.

A second revolt in 1999 led to mass executions in and around Basra. Subsequently the Iraqi government deliberately neglected the city, and much commerce was diverted to Umm Qasrmarker. These alleged abuses are to feature amongst the charges against the former regime to be considered by the Iraq Special Tribunal set up by the Iraq Interim Government following the 2003 invasion.

Third millennium

Workers in Basra's oil industry have been involved in extensive organization and labour conflict. They held a two-day strike in August 2003, and formed the nucleus of the independent General Union of Oil Employees (GUOE) in June 2004. The union held a one-day strike in July 2005, and publicly opposes plans for privatizing the industry.

2003: Iraq War and occupation

In March through to May 2003, the outskirts of Basra were the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. British forces, led by the 7th Armoured Brigade, took the city on April 6, 2003. This city was the first stop for the United Statesmarker and the United Kingdommarker during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

2004: Car bombs

On April 21, 2004, a series of bomb blasts ripped through the city, killing 74 people.

The Multi-National Division , under British Command, is engaged in Security and Stabilization missions in Basra Governoratemarker and surrounding areas.


January: Elections
Political groups and their ideology which are strong in Basra are reported to have close links with political parties already in power in the Iraqi government, despite opposition from Iraqi Sunnis and the more secular Kurds. January 2005 elections saw several radical politicians gain office, supported by religious parties.


September 3rd: UK troops withdraw to Basra Airport
British troops pull out of Basra city and the palace and move to a base at Basra International Airportmarker.

December 16th: UK troops transfer control to Iraqi authorities
British troops transfer control of Basra province to the Iraqi authorities, four-and-a-half years after the invasion. A BBC survey of local residents finds that 86% think the presence of British troops since 2003 has had an overall negative effect on the province.

New Police Chief
Abdul Jalil Khalaf was appointed Police Chief by the central government with the task of taking on the militias. He has been outspoken against the targeting of women by the militias.. Talking to the BBC, he said that his determination to tackle the militia has led to almost daily assassination attempts . This has been taken as sign that he is serious in opposing the militias.


In March 2008, the Iraqi Army launched a major offensive, code-named Saulat al-Fursan (Charge of the White Knights), aimed at forcing the Mahdi Army out of Basra. The assault was planned by Gen Mohan Furaiji and approved by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Security commanders removed
In April 2008, following the failure to disarm militant groups, both Maj-Gen Abdul Jalil Khalaf and Gen Mohan Furaiji are removed from their positions in Basra.

Secret prison
On September 11, 2008, during a routine tour of Basra, the Iraqi Parliament’s Human Rights Commission found up to 200 malnourished and disease-stricken Iraqi detainees locked in a secret prison in Basra. The commission’s spokesman, Amer Thamer, stated that many of the detainees bore signs of torture. The prison is operated by the Defense Ministry, and none of the inmates have ever been tried or given access to legal assistance. Thamer said that the 200 prisoners only had access to one flooded and dirty latrine, and the commission has demanded the authorities shut down the prison immediately.

H.G. Wells and Basra

The city of Basra has a major role in H.G. Wells's 1933 future history "The Shape of Things to Come", where the Iraqi city is at the center of a world state emerging after a collapse of civilization, and becomes in effect the capital of the world (see [9115]).

Sister cities

See also



  • Hallaq, Wael. The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law. Cambridge University Press, 2005
  • Hawting, Gerald R. The First Dynasty of Islam. Routledge. 2nd ed, 2000
  • Madelung, Wilferd. "Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr and the Mahdi" in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies 40. 1981. pp. 291–305.
  • Vincent, Stephen. Into The Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq. ISBN 1-890626-57-0.

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