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Basra

BASRA

City in Iraq; Iraq's only seaport, but situated some 75 miles (120 km) north of the Persian/Arabian Gulf, on the Shatt al-Arab.

Basra is an administrative and commercial center for Iraq, with a population of some 1.3 million (according to a 2002 estimate). It is linked to Baghdad, the capital, by railroad and is governed by the muhafiz, a chief of the administrative unit who is also the representative of the central government in Baghdad.

The seaport itself is actually situated at the head of the Shatt al-Arab, the confluence and the lower reach of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which flows for some 112 miles (180 km) to empty into the Persian Gulf. Basra is bounded on the north by the


governate of Maysan, on the east by Iran, and on the west by the Western Desert. Basra has a desert climate with great temperature variations between day and night, summer and winter. The high temperature reaches 106°F (50°C); the low is above frost. Annual relative humidity is 44 to 59 percent; annual rainfall ranges between 2 and 8 inches (50200 mm). Winters are warm, with temperatures above freezing.

With its multitude of waterways, Basra has the right conditions for the successful cultivation of dates; the incoming and outgoing tides of some 635 rivers and channels that water approximately 14 million palm trees make the region one of the world's most fertile. Despite the devastation that occurred here during the IranIraq War (19801988), the orchards are still farmed in quantity. Besides the 530 kinds of dates, other crops include maize (corn), citrus, apples, and many types of vegetables.

Petroleum has become the leading industry of Basra. The upstream operations are carried out by the Iraq National Oil Company, beyond the areas allotted to the British Petroleum Company, according to laws passed in 1961. In 1975, Iraq nationalized the Basra Petroleum Company, and the era of oil concessions ended. The oil refineries and the petrochemical and fertilizer plants were moved out of Basra during the IranIraq War, but the paper, fishing, and date industries still operate. Through Basra as a port-of-entry come imports, such as sugar, timber, coffee, and tea. The main exports are crude oil and petroleum products, dates, leather, and wool.

Although historically Basra was a multiethnic city, because of the political changes in Iraq since 1958, Muslim Arabs form the majority: Armenians, Indians, and Iranians are, for the most part, gone, as are the Jews. Arabic is the language of the city, and Shiʿism is the predominant form of Islamalthough some few Christians, Jews, and Sabaeans remain.

The University of Basra and a branch of the University of Technology are the schools of higher education; some 385 primary schools, 175 secondary schools, and 15 vocational schools exist. The Center for Arab Gulf Studies was located in Basra, but it was moved to Baghdad in 1985.

Basra was founded by Caliph Umar I in 638 c.e. It is the Bassorah of the Arabian Nights and Sinbad. In 1534, Basra was made part of the Ottoman Empire by Sultan Sulayman, who incorporated Iraq into his empire; along with Baghdad and Mosul, Basra was designated one of the vilayets (provinces) of Ottoman Iraq. Although the Mamluks ruled Iraq for several centuries, the Ottomans reestablished their authority in 1831, ousting the Mamluks and forcefully subjugating the tribal areas. British companies meanwhile established a sphere of influence, strengthening ties with tribal shaykhs and controlling the importexport market. The strategic position of Basra as a link in the overland route to Asia or the Mediterranean created a competition between the Ottomans, Germans, British, and Indians. The growth of the British and German presence in Basra during the eighteenth century awakened the Ottomans to its importance. They therefore attempted to reestablish their domination over Basra, Kuwait, and the surrounding region.

During World War I, Basra was the first Ottoman city to fall to a BritishIndian occupation, on 23 November 1914, and a military governor was appointed. Britain was planning to keep Basra under permanent jurisdiction, perhaps linking it to the Indian administrative unit, but international events worked against this. Although Britain was granted a mandate over Iraq by the League of Nations in 1920, they recognized Faisal I ibn Hussein as king in 1922 and dissolved the mandate in 1932, when Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations.

One of the factors that led to the IranIraq War was control of the Shatt al-Arab, the major waterway connecting the Gulf with Iraq's port of Basra and Iran's ports of Khorramshahr and Abadan. This had been the very issue between the Ottomans and Persia (now Iran) before World War I. Because of its location, then, Basra became central to the struggle, and the surrounding countryside suffered ecological damage, which was made worse by the destruction wrought by the Coalition forces during the Gulf Crisis of 19901991.

see also baghdad; dates; faisal i ibn hussein; gulf crisis (19901991); iraniraq war (19801988); iraq; mamluks; ottoman empire; persian gulf; petroleum, oil, and natural gas; shatt al-arab; tigris and euphrates rivers.

Bibliography

Altimimi, Hamid. Basra: Under British Occupation, 19141921. London, 1973.

Atiyyah, Ghassan. Iraq, 19081921: A Socio-Political Study. Beirut: Arab Institute for Research, 1973.

Cordesman, Anthony H., and Wagner, Abraham R. The Lessons of Modern War: The IranIraq War. London: Mansell; Boulder, CO: Westview, 1990.

Harris, George L. Iraq: Its People, Its Society, Its Culture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1958.

Longrigg, S. H. Iraq, 1900 to 1950: A Political, Social, and Economic History. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1953.

Nazar al-Khalaf

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Basra

Basra (bŭs´rə), Arabic al Basrah, city (1987 pop. 406,296), SE Iraq, on the Shatt al Arab. Basra is Iraq's second largest city and principal port. Its commercially advantageous location, near oil fields and 75 mi (121 km) from the Persian Gulf, has made it prosperous, and oil is refined in the city. Petroleum products, grains, wool, and dates are exported. Basra was founded by the caliph Umar I, at the site of modern Az Zabair. It was a cultural center under Harun ar-Rashid and declined with the decay of the Abbasid caliphate. Its possession was long contested by the Persians and the Turks. Largely in ruins by the mid-14 cent., Basra was subsequently re-established on its present site. The British occupied Basra during World War I and used its port; they remained there until 1930. After World War I the construction of a rail line to Baghdad and the building of a modern harbor restored the city's importance. Due to its location on the heavily contested Shatt al Arab waterway, Basra was hard hit by Iranian forces in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War. The port was further bombed by western coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War (1991), primarily to thwart covert trade. Basra is the seat of a branch of the Univ. of Baghdad. The name also appears as Bassora, Bussora, and Busra.

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Basra

Basra (Al-Basrah) City and chief port on Shatt al-Arab channel, s Iraq; capital of Basra province. An ancient centre of Arabic learning, it was captured by the Turks in 1668. In the early 20th century, large oilfields were discovered nearby, resulting in Basra's revival as a commercial and industrial centre. It suffered serious damage during the Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars. Industries: oil refining, flour, wool. Pop. (1996 est.) 669,900.

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Basra

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