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Basra, Iraq
Nov 14, 2007 - 4:34:11 PM
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Basra (Arabic: البصرة; BGN: Al Başrah) is the second largest city of Iraq with an estimated population of 1,700,000 (2007), (2002) 1,337,600 . It is the country's main port and the capital of the Basra Governorate. Basra played an important role in early Islamic history.


The city is located along the Shatt al-Arab waterway near the Persian Gulf, 55 kilometers (34 mi) from the Persian Gulf and 545 kilometers (339 mi) from Baghdad, Iraq's capital and largest city.

The area surrounding Basra has substantial petroleum resources and many oil wells. The city also has an international airport, which recently began restored service to 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. The city's oil refinery has a production capacity of about 140,000 barrels a day (22,300 m³).

Muslim adherents of the area are primarily members of the Jafari Shi'a sect. A sizeable number of Sunnis 16% of Basra 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.

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 2.7 meters (9 ft). For a long time, Basra grew the finest dates in the world.

Islamic theology and scholarship

Wael Hallaq notes that by contrast with Medina and to a lesser extent Syria, in Iraq there was no unbroken Muslim population dating back to the Prophet's time. Therefore Maliki (and Azwa'i) appeals to the practice ('amal) of the community could not apply. Instead the people of 'Iraq relied upon those Companions of the Prophet who settled there, and upon such factions of the Hijaz whom they respected most.

Shirazi's "Tabaqat", which Wael Hallaq labels "an important early biographical work dedicated to jurists", covered 84 "towering figures" of Islamic jurisprudence; to which Basra provided 17. It was therefore a center surpassed only by Medina (22) and Kufa (20). Among the Companions who settled in Basra were Abu Musa and 'Anas ibn Malik. Among its jurists, Hallaq singles out Muhammad ibn Sirin, Abu 'Abd Allah Muslim ibn Yasar, and Abu Ayyub al-Sakhtiyani. Qatada ibn Di'ama (680-736) attained respect as a traditionist and Qur'anic interpreter. In the late 750s, Sawwar ibn Abd Allah began the practice of paying salaries to the court's witnesses and assistants, ensuring their impartiality. Hammad ibn Salama (d. 784), mufti of Basra, was a teacher of Abu Hanifa. Abu Hanifa's student Zufar ibn al-Hudayl later moved from Kufa to Basra. Basran and Kufan law, under the patronage of the early 'Abbasids, became a shared jurisprudence called the "Hanafi Madhhab"; as opposed to others, like the practice of Medina which became the Maliki Madhhab.

Sufyan al-Thawri and Ma'mar ibn Rashid collected many legal and other teachings and traditions into books, and migrated to the Yemen; there 'Abd al-Razzaq included them into his Musannaf during the 9th century. Back in Basra, Musaddad ibn Musarhad compiled his own collection arranged in "Musnad" form.

Basra also spawned heterodox interpretations of Islam. Rabi'ah al-'Adawiyya al-Qaysiyya (born 717), lived there and became popular as poet, mystic, and teacher. It was also among the first bases of the Qadariyya.

Qadarism in Islam corresponds to the doctine of human free will in Christianity, as opposed to such doctrines of predestination as later proposed by, e.g., John Calvin. The traditionist Yahya ibn Ya'mar attributed the introduction of Qadari doctrines into Basra to a Ma'bad al-Juhani (d. 80). Al-Hasan (scholar) developed a moderate form of this in his Risala: God may command, forbid, punish, and test; but He does not force ordinary mortals to evil or good despite that He has the power. According to al-Dhahabi (Siyar A'lam al-Nubala 6:330 #858), al-Hasan's student Abu 'Uthman 'Amr ibn 'Ubayd (d. ~144) left al-Hasan's teaching circle and "isolated" himself by taking these doctrines further. In Syria, the reigning Marwanids relied on predestination to justify their hold on secular authority. Imam Malik in his Muwatta recorded (with approval!) that caliph 'Umar ibn 'Abd al-Aziz had recommended putting Qadarists "to the sword". Syrian hadith transmitters invented traditions of the Prophet that denounced Qadarism as a heresy, and labeled its believers and Basra as a whole as "monkeys and swine" - as sura 5 had said of the Jews.

Under Abu 'l-Hudhayl al-'Allaf (d. 841), the Basrans are also credited (or blamed) for the Mutazilist school, a form of rationalism which included the Qadari doctines of al-Hasan and attracted the support of 'Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun.

According to Arthur Jeffery, Basra also at first held to an idiosyncratic pronunciation of the Qur'an, which they put to paper as the "Lubab al-Qulub" and attributed to Abu Musa. For instance, this codex used the more Biblically correct "Ibraham", as against the "Ibrahim" which is forced by sura 21's rhyme; in addition there are no Abu Musa variants recorded for sura 21. This was also the reading of Ibn Al-Zubayr when he came to Mecca (although his variants did encompass sura 21). The likely solution is that the first Qur'an text at Basra was "defective", which is to say it lacked long vowel signs; and that Basra accepted sura 21 as part of Qur'an later than it accepted other suras - most likely during or after the mid-680s.


First millennium

636: Founding

An earlier settlement in the immediate vicinity was known by the Syriac name Perat d'Maishan. 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 Khuzestan 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.

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 popularity there; Hussein had already fled, and so Ubayd Allah executed Hussein's cousin Muslim ibn Aqeel.

684: Abd-Allah ibn al-Harith

In 683, Abd Allah ibn Zubayr was hailed as the new 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 Khuzestan. 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 Mosul. 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 center 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

Second millennium

1668: Ottoman Empire

It was long a flourishing commercial and cultural center, until it was captured by the Ottoman Empire in 1668, after which it declined in importance, but was fought over by Turks and Persians and was the scene of repeated attempts at resistance.

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 (1914) during World War I the occupying British 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 Russia 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 Basrah was founded in 1967.

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 Iran and was the site of many fierce battles, such as Operation Ramadan.

1991: Persian Gulf War

After the first Persian Gulf War 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

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 Qasr. 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 labor 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

In March through May of 2003, the outskirts of Basra were the scene of the heaviest fighting. British forces, led by units of 7th Armoured Brigade, took the city on 6 April 2003. This city was the first stop for the United States and the United Kingdom, during the 2003.

2004: Car bomb

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

The Multi-National Division (South-East) (Iraq), under British Command, is currently engaged in Security and Stabilization missions in Basra Governorate 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 pull out

British troops pull out of Basra city and the palace and move to a base at Basra International Airport.

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