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Updated:Monday 13th October 2014

Basra Definition

Basra is the main port and city southeastern Iraq at the head of the Arvand River and is Iraq’s second largest city. Basra played an important historical role during first years of Islam.The word Basra is derived from two Persian words Bas (end) and Rah (road).Basra is 55km from the Persian Gulf and 545km from Baghdad.Basra was first founded in 636 AD as a military base for tribal soldiers who fought for Caliph Omar. At the time when the Sassanid Army was defeated, there was a city called Vahashtabad which was destroyed later. In 639, Basra was a base to inflict heavy losses on the Persian forces in different parts of Khuzestan.After assassination of Caliph Omar by Firooz Nahavandi, Osman took power and led the war against the Sassanid army until the fall of the Empire. After Osman’s death, in 650, Basra leaders provided an army in support of Aisha against Imam Ali. They were defeated at the Battle of Jamal and Aisha was sent to Mecca were she died.During the time of the Abbasid dynasty Basra became an intellectual centre.Centuries later, in 1990, Basra became the scene of fierce battles during the Iran-Iraq war.In 1999 Basra revolted against Saddam Hussein which led to mass executions in and around Basra. (Wikipedia) - Basra For other uses, see Basra (disambiguation). Not to be confused with Bosra, Busra al-Harir, or Bozrah.
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Basrah Arabic: البصرة‎ Al Baṣrah Country Governorate Founded Government  • Type  • Mayor Area  • Total Elevation Population (2010)  • Total  • Density Time zone Area code(s) Website
Basrah city
Nickname(s): Venice of the East
Coordinates: 30°30′N 47°49′E / 30.500°N 47.817°E / 30.500; 47.817
Basrah Governorate
636 AD
Dr. Khelaf Abdul Samad
181 km2 (70 sq mi)
5 m (16 ft)
18,000/km2 (47,000/sq mi)
+3 GMT
(+964) 40

Basra, also written Basrah (Arabic: البصرة‎; BGN: Al Başrah), is the capital of Basra Governorate, located on the Shatt al-Arab river in southern Iraq between Kuwait and Iran. It had an estimated population of 952,441 as of 2007, and 3.5 million of 2012. Basra is also Iraq''s main port, although it does not have deep water access, which is handled at the port of Umm Qasr.

The city is part of the historic location of Sumer, the home of Sinbad the Sailor, and a proposed location of the Garden of Eden. It played an important role in early Islamic history and was built in 636 AD or 14 AH. It is Iraq''s second largest and most populous city after Baghdad. Basra is consistently one of the hottest cities on the planet, with summer temperatures regularly exceeding 45 °C (113 °F).

  • 1 Etymology
  • 2 History
    • 2.1 Ancient times
    • 2.2 Middle Ages
    • 2.3 Ottoman Empire
    • 2.4 World Wars
    • 2.5 Post 1945
      • 2.5.1 1999: Second revolt
      • 2.5.2 2003: Iraq War and occupation
      • 2.5.3 2008
    • 2.6 2014
  • 3 Geography and climate
  • 4 Demographics
  • 5 Cityscape
  • 6 Economy
  • 7 In religion
  • 8 In fiction
  • 9 Twin towns – Sister cities
  • 10 See also
  • 11 References
  • 12 Bibliography
  • 13 External links


The city was called by many names throughout its history, Basrah being the most common. In Arabic the word basrah means ''the overwatcher'', which might have been an allusion to the city''s origin as an Arab military base against the Sassanids. Some sources claim that the name is derived from the Persian word Bas-rah, which means "where many paths meet". Others have argued that the name is derived from the Aramaic word basratha, meaning ''place of huts'' or ''settlement''.

During the pre-Islamic era, the area was known to the Arabs as al-Khariba due to the existence of an ancient city called al-Kharba. After the present city was built, it was called by many names, including "the mother of Iraq", "the reservoir of Arabs", "the prosperous city", and "al-Faiha".

History See also: Timeline of Basra Ancient timesAshar Creek and bazaar, ca.1915Shanasheel of the old part of Basra city, 1954

The present city was founded in 636 as an encampment and garrison for Arab tribesmen constituting the armies of the Rashidun Caliph Umar a few kilometres south of the present city, where a tell still marks its site. While defeating the forces of the Sassanid Empire there, the Muslim commander Utbah ibn Ghazwan erected his camp 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. However, other sources claim the name originates from the Persian word Bas-rāh or Bassorāh meaning "where many ways come together".

In 639 Umar established this encampment as a city with five districts, and appointed Abu Musa al-Ash''ari as its first governor. Abu Musa led the conquest of Khuzestan from 639 to 642 and was ordered by Umar to aid Uthman ibn Abu al-ʿAs, then fighting Iran from a new, more easterly miṣr at Tawwaj In 650, the Rashidun Caliph Uthman reorganised the Persian frontier, installed ʿAbdullah ibn Amir as Basra''s governor, and put the military''s southern wing under Basra''s control. Ibn Amir led his forces to their final victory over Yazdegerd III, the Sassanid King of Kings.

In 656, Uthman was murdered and Ali was appointed Caliph. Ali first installed Uthman ibn Hanif as Basra''s governor, who was followed by ʿAbdullah ibn ʿAbbas. These men held the city for Ali until the latter''s death in 661.

The Sufyanids held Basra until Yazid I''s death in 683. The Sufyanids'' first governor was Umayyad ʿAbdullah, a renowned military leader, commanding fealty and financial demands from Karballah, but poor governor. In 664, Muʿawiyah replaced him with Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan, often called "ibn Abihi" ("son of his own father"), who became infamous for draconian rules of public order. On Ziyad''s death in 673, his son ʿUbaydullah ibn Ziyad became governor. In 680, Yazid I ordered ʿUbaydullah to keep order in Kufa as a reaction to Hussein ibn Ali''s popularity as the grandson of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. ʿUbaydullah took over the control of Kufa. Hussein sent his cousin as an ambassador to the people of Kufa, but ʿUbaydullah executed Hussein''s cousin Muslim ibn Aqeel amid fears of an uprising. ʿUbaydullah amassed an army of thousands of soldiers and fought Hussein''s army of approximately 70 in a place called Karbala near Kufa. ʿUbaydullah''s army was victorious; Hussein and his followers were killed and their heads were sent to Yazid as proof.

Ibn al-Harith spent his year in office trying to put down Nafi'' ibn al-Azraq''s Kharijite uprising in Khuzestan. In 685, Ibn al-Zubayr, requiring a practical ruler, appointed Umar ibn Ubayd Allah ibn Ma''mar Finally, Ibn al-Zubayr appointed his own brother Mus''ab. In 686, the revolutionary al-Mukhtar led an insurrection at Kufa, and put an end to ʿUbaydullah ibn Ziyad near Mosul. In 687, Musʿab defeated al-Mukhtar with the help of Kufans who Mukhtar exiled.

Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan reconquered Basra in 691, and Basra remained loyal to his governor al-Hajjaj during Ibn Ashʿath''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 as-Saffah of the Abbasid Caliphate.

During the time of the Abbasids Basra became an intellectual centre as it was the home city of the Arab polymath Ibn al-Haytham, the Arab literary giant al-Jahiz, and the Sufi mystic Rabia Basri. The Zanj Rebellion by the agricultural slaves of the lowlands affected the area. In 871, the Zanj sacked Basra. In 923, the Qarmatians, an extremist Muslim sect, invaded and devastated Basra. From 945 to 1055, a Buyid dynasty ruled Baghdad and most of Iraq. Abu al Qasim al-Baridis, who still controlled Basra and Wasit, were defeated and their lands taken by the Buyids in 947.

Sanad al-Dawla al-Habashi was 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 as there appears to have been a great deal of rivalry in the ad-Dawla group.

Basra at nightMiddle Ages

The Great Friday Mosque was constructed in Basra. In 1122, Imad ad-Din Zengi received Basra as a fief. In 1126, Zengi suppressed a revolt and 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 under Hulegu Khan sacked Baghdad and ended Abbasid rule. 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 fighting erupted at the Persian Gulf port of Basra among the Genoese, between the Guelph and the Ghibelline factions. In 1327, Ibn Battuta visited Basra, which was in decline with the great mosque being 2 miles (3.2 km) out of town. An Ilkhanid governor received him. In 1411, the Jalayirid leader was ousted from Basra by the Black Sheep Turkmen. In 1523, the Portuguese under the command of António 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.

Ottoman Empire See also: Basra Eyalet and Basra VilayetArab girls, ca. 1917

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.

The Zand Dynasty under Karim Khan Zand briefly occupied Basra after a long siege in 1775-9. Zand introduced Shi''iah religious practices in Basra.

In 1911, the Encyclopædia Britannica reported some Jews and a few Christians living in Basra, but no Turks other than Ottoman officials. 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.

World WarsTurkish prisoners passing along the bank of Ashar Creek, nearing Whiteley''s Bridge, Basra 1917.

After the Battle of Basra (1914) during World War I, the occupying British modernized the port (works designed by Sir George Buchanan); these British commercial interests made it one of the most important ports in the Persian Gulf "with shipping and trade links to the Far East.

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.

Post 1945

The University of Basrah 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 Iran and was the site of many fierce battles, such as Operation Ramadan and Operation Karbala 5.

After the war, Saddam erected 99 memorial statues to Iraqi generals and commanders killed during the war along the bank of the Shatt-al-arab river, all pointing their fingers towards Iran.

After the first Persian Gulf War, which the US called Operation Desert Storm, in 1991, a rebellion struck Basra. The widespread revolt was against Saddam Hussein who violently put down the rebellion, with much death and destruction inflicted on Basra.

1999: Second revolt

On 25 January 1999, Basra was the scene of scores of civilian casualties when a missile fired by a US warplane was dropped in a civilian area. Eleven persons were killed and fifty-nine injured. General Anthony Zinni, then commander of US 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 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.

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 Main article: Battle of Basra (2003)

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 6 April 2003. This city was the first stop for the United States and the United Kingdom during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

During the invasion, British forces also took down the 99 memorial statues of deceased Iraqi officers erected by after the end of the Iran-Iraq war.

On 21 April 2004, a series of bomb blasts ripped through the city, killing 74 people. The Multi-National Division (South-East), under British Command, is engaged in Security and Stabilization missions in Basra Governorate and surrounding areas. 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. American journalist Steven Vincent, who had been researching and reporting on corruption and militia activity in the city, was kidnapped and killed on 2 August 2005.

On 19 September 2005, two undercover British SAS soldiers disguised in Arab civilian clothes and headdresses opened fire on Iraqi police officers after having been stopped at a roadblock, killing at least one. After being arrested, the British Army raided the jail they were being held in to rescue them, killing several people from among their nominal allies – the Iraqi security forces.

British troops transferred control of Basra province to the Iraqi authorities in 2007, 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.

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.

2008 Main article: Battle of Basra (2008)

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.

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.

On 11 September 2008, during a routine tour of Basra, captain Rogers Johnson 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.


Basra was scheduled to host the 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations. The tournament would have been held in Basra Sports City. Basra Sports City is a newly built multi-use sports complex.

The tournament was shifted after concerns over preparations and security. Iraq was also due to host the 2013 tournament, but this was moved to Bahrain instead.

Geography and climate

Basra is located on the Shatt-Al-Arab waterway, downstream of which is the Persian Gulf. The Shatt-Al-Arab and Basra waterways define the eastern and western borders of Basra, respectively. The city is penetrated by a complex network of canals and streams, vital for irrigation and other agricultural use. These canals were once used to transport goods and people throughout the city, but during the last two decades, pollution and a continuous drop in water levels have made river navigation impossible in the canals. Basra is roughly 110 km (68 mi) from the Persian Gulf.

Basra has a hot desert climate (Köppen climate classification BWh), like the rest of the surrounding region, though it receives slightly more precipitation than inland locations due to its location near the coast. During the summer months, from June to August, Basra is consistently one of the hottest cities on the planet, with temperatures regularly exceeding 45 °C (113 °F) and approaching 50 °C (122 °F) in July. In winter Basra experiences mild weather with average high temperatures around 20 °C (68 °F). On some winter nights, minimum temperatures are below 0 °C (32 °F). High humidity – sometimes exceeding 90% – is common due to the proximity to the marshy Persian Gulf.

Climate data for Basra Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year Average high °C (°F) Daily mean °C (°F) Average low °C (°F) Precipitation mm (inches) Avg. rainy days Mean daily sunshine hours
17.7 (63.9) 20 (68) 24.5 (76.1) 30.6 (87.1) 36.8 (98.2) 39.7 (103.5) 41.3 (106.3) 41.8 (107.2) 39.9 (103.8) 34.9 (94.8) 27.1 (80.8) 20.3 (68.5) 31.22 (88.18)
12.2 (54) 14.2 (57.6) 18.3 (64.9) 23.9 (75) 30.2 (86.4) 32.9 (91.2) 34.3 (93.7) 33.9 (93) 31.2 (88.2) 26.4 (79.5) 20.4 (68.7) 14.5 (58.1) 24.37 (75.86)
6.8 (44.2) 8.4 (47.1) 12.2 (54) 17.2 (63) 23.6 (74.5) 26.2 (79.2) 27.4 (81.3) 26.1 (79) 22.6 (72.7) 18 (64) 13.7 (56.7) 8.7 (47.7) 17.57 (63.62)
31 (1.22) 21 (0.83) 19 (0.75) 17 (0.67) 5 (0.2) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 3 (0.12) 23 (0.91) 33 (1.3) 152 (6)
6 5 5 4 2 0 0 0 0 1 4 5 32
6 7 7 8 9 11 11 10 10 9 7 6 8.4
Source #1:
Source #2: Weather2Travel for rainy days and sunshine
DemographicsA Chaldean Catholic Church in Basra.

In Basra the vast majority of the population are ethnic Arabs of the Adnanite or the Qahtanite tribes. The main tribes located in Basra are Al-Emarah, Bani Tamim, Bani Assad, Bani Ka''ab, Bani Malik, Shammar, Bani Khalid, Bani Sa''ad, Al-shwelat `Anizzah, Suwa''id, Al-bo Mohammed, Al-Jboor, Duwasir, Dhufair, Shreefat, Al-Badr, Al-Ubadi, Ruba''ah Sayyid tribes (descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammed) and hundreds of other Arab tribes.

In 2006, Muslim adherents were about 85% Shiite and 15% Sunni,. A small number of Christians still live in Basra. There are remnants of the pre-Islamic gnostic sect of Mandaeans, whose headquarters were in the area formerly called Suk esh-Sheikh, with a small community of 3000 people or less. Basra is also home to a minority of Afro-Iraqi peoples.

CityscapeShatt Al-ArabAli Bin Abi Talib mosqueOld BasrahCanal in Basra 1913. Photo by Arne C Waern, Sweden
  • The old mosque of Basra, the first mosque in Islam outside the Arabian peninsula.
  • Sinbad Island is located in the center of Shatt Al-Arab, near the Miinaalmakl, and extends above the bridge Khaled and is a tourist landmark.
  • Sayab''s House Ruins is the site of the most famous home of the poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. There is also a statue of Sayab, one of the statues in Basra done by the artist and sculptor nada'' Kadhum, located on al-Basrah Corniche; it was unveiled in 1972.
  • Basra Sports City is the largest sport city in the Middle East, located on the Shatt al-Basra.
  • Palm tree forests are largely located on the shores of shatt-al Arab waterway, especially in the nearby village of Abu Al-Khasib.
  • Corniche al-Basra is a street which runs on the shore of the Shatt al-Arab; it goes from the Lion of Babylon Square to the Four Palaces.
  • Basra International Hotel (formally known as Basra Sheraton Hotel) is located on the Corniche street. The only five star hotel in the city, it is notable for its Shanasheel style exterior design. The hotel was heavily looted during the Iraq War, and it has been renovated recently.
  • Sayyed Ali al-Musawi Mosque, also known as the Mosque of the Children of Amer, is located in the city center, on Al-Gazear Street, and it was built for Shia Imami''s leader Sayyed Ali al-Moussawi, whose followers lived in Iraq and neighboring countries.
  • The Fun City of Basrah, which is now called Basra Land, is one of the oldest theme-park entertainment cities in the south of the country, and the largest involving a large number of games giants. It was damaged during the war, and has been rebuilt.
  • Akhora Park is one of the city''s older parks. It is located on al-Basra Street.
  • There are four formal presidential palaces in Basrah.
  • The Latin Church is located on the 14th of July Street.
  • Indian Market (Amogaiz) is one of the main bazaars in the city. It is called the Indian Market, since it had Indian vendors working there at the beginning of the last century.
  • Hanna-Sheikh Bazaar is an old market; it was established by the powerful and famous Hanna-Sheikh family.
EconomyAl Basrah Oil Terminal.

The city is located along the Shatt al-Arab waterway, 55 kilometers (34 mi) from the Persian Gulf and 545 kilometers (339 mi) from Baghdad, Iraq''s capital and largest city. Its economy is largely dependent on the oil industry. Iraq has the world''s 4th largest oil reserves estimated to be more 115 billion barrels (18.3×10^9 m3). Some of Iraq''s largest oil fields are located in the province, and most of Iraq''s oil exports leave from Al Basrah Oil Terminal. The South Oil Company has its headquarters in the city.

Substantial economic activity in Basrah is centered around the petrochemical industry, which includes the Southern Fertilizer Company and The State Company for Petrochemical Industries. The Southern Fertilizer Company produces ammonia solution, urea and nitrogen gas, while the SCPI focus on such products as ethylene, caustic/chlorine, vinyl chlorine monomer (VCM), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low-density polyethylene, and high-density polyethylene

Basra is in a fertile agricultural region, with major products including rice, maize corn, barley, pearl millet, wheat, dates, and livestock. For a long time, Basra was known for the superior quality of its dates. Basra was known in the 1960s for its sugar market, a fact that figured heavily in the English contract law remoteness of damages case The Heron II 1 AC 350.

Shipping, logistics and transport are also major industries in Basra. Basra is home to all of Iraq’s six ports; Umm Qasr is the main deep-water port with 22 platforms, some of which are dedicated to specific goods (such as sulfur, seeds, lubricant oil, etc.) The other five ports are smaller in scale and more narrowly specialized. Fishing was an important business before the oil boom. The city also has an international airport, with service into Baghdad with Iraqi Airways—the national airline.

In religion

Basra has the first mosque built in Iraq.

In fiction
  • In Voltaire''s Zadig "Bassora" is the site of an international market where the hero meets representatives of all the world religions and concludes that "the world is one large family which meets at Bassora".
  • The city of Basra has a major role in H.G. Wells''s 1933 future history "The Shape of Things to Come", where the "Modern State" is at the center of a world state emerging after a collapse of civilization, and becomes in effect the capital of the world.
  • In the 1940 film The Thief of Bagdad, Ahmad and Abu flee to the city from Bagdad. Ahmad falls in love with the sultan''s beautiful daughter, who is also desired by his enemy, and former Grand Vizier, Jaffar.
  • In Scott K. Andrews'' "Operation Motherland", the second book in the post-apocalyptic "Afterblight Chronicles", the character Lee Keegan crash lands his plane in the streets of Basra during the opening chapter.
Twin towns – Sister cities

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