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With 1.3 million people, Basra is the third largest city in Iraq. Located on the Shatt Al-Arab River and close to the Persian Gulf, Basra is Iraq's primary port. It was founded on the site of a great military camp of the second Caliph Omar Bin al-Khatab and grew to be a center of maritime commerce and trade. The city reached its peak between the 9th and 13th centuries under the Abbasids, becoming a famous cultural center. Basra continued to be an important trade center during the Ottoman period, and was one of the provincial capitals in Iraq. Because of its cosmopolitan nature, Basra was home to significant Iraqi nationalist opposition to Ottoman rule in the early 20th century. Basra is predominantly Shia, and was the initial site of Shia rebellion immediately following the 1991 Gulf War.

Basrah is the largest city in southern Iraq, situated on the west bank of Shatt Al-Arab, 55 km from the Arabian Gulf and 545 km from Baghdad. It is the main gate to the outside world. The main port of Iraq, Al-Barah has an international airport and is connected by rail with Baghdad and the countries of Iran and Kuwait. It is the terminal point for oil pipelines, and petroleum refining is a major industry. Oceangoing oil tankers reach Al-Barah by means of the Rok Channel. Petroleum products, grains, and dates are the chief exports.

Basrah is important in terms of Iraq's and Islam's history, and is surrounded by the largest plantation of datepalms in the world. The canals which crisscross Basrah have led to its being known as the "Venice of the East". About 70 km north of Basrah is Qurna at the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates: according to legend, it is the site of the Garden of Eden.

Two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, travers the country from north to south: hteir sources are in the far away uplands of Armenia and Anatolia, and they are fed by many tributaries. The two rivers meet in the Shatt-Al-Arab, which runs through Basrah Governorate in the south to pour in the Arabian Gulf.

Basra takes its name from the great military camp, which was founded by the second Caliph Omar Bin al-Khatab in 637 AD near the present town of Zubair, to control lower Iraq and its sea approaches. From this military camp grew the first famous city of Basra, where philosophers, poets, historians and theologians founded important schools which profoundly influenced all Islamic thought and Arab literature.

It was called Basorah in the collection of Oriental folk tales known as the Arabian Nights. It is associated with the name of Sinbad the sailor (from "The Thousand and Nights"), for it was from here that he set out to his seven fabulous voyages. An Island close to the river bank bears his name.

By the 8th century it had become an important trade and cultural center. The outpost of the Empire, which was being founded by the Arabs and anchorage for boats came from China and the other lower countries. Thus the city of Basra flourished between about 800 and 1200 AD and became famous for its wealth and size as well as for its associations with the name of Sindbad the sailor. As time went by canals appeared connecting the city with the Arab Gulf and Shatt al-Arab. Today, a pile of sun-backed rubble and the ruins of Sindbad's tower alone bear witness to the existence of this famous city of the past.

Political chaos, economic depression, and social disintegration followed in the wake of the Mongol invasions. Basrah, which had been a key transit point for seaborne commerce, was circumvented after the Portuguese discovered a shorter route around the Cape of Good Hope. It declined with the fall of the Abbassid dynasty in 1258.

Thus the first city declined in importance, and was finally abandoned altogether on its transfer to the new and present site of old Basra. Situated as near to the Shatt-al-Arab then as the level of ground would permit to avoid the danger of flooding, the city grew and later followed by the river port of Ashar became the main inlet and outlet for the nation's merchandise. As Iraq's only port, it is situated at the lower confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and at the furthest practical point in land for the Trans-shipment of goods from ocean going to more expensive inland transport. However, it has been said that Basra did not recover a tithe of its former greatness as a port until the advent of World War I of (1914-1918) when Margil was chosen as the most suitable site for the development of large wharves.

The modern state of Iraq was created in 1920, as part of a peace settlement following the war. The victorious Allies divided the Arab provinces of the former Ottoman Empire between them. Britain, which had occupied the provinces of Basrah and Baghdad for most of the war, and Mosul by the end of the war, was granted mandatory power under the new system of international trusteeship established by the League of Nations. Because of its greater exposure to Westerners who encouraged the nationalists, Basrah became the center from which Iraqi nationalists began to demand a measure of autonomy.

The city's petroleum complex was damaged during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s; the population also declined greatly, as a result of the war, from more than 1.5 million in 1977 to less than 900,000 in the late 1980s.

The Shatt al Arab is usually navigable by maritime traffic for about 130 km. The channel has been dredged to 3 meters and is in use. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers have navigable sections for shallow-draft watercraft. The Shatt al Basrah canal was navigable by shallow-draft craft before closing in 1991 because of the Gulf war. Ports and harbors [Umm Qasr, Khawr az Zubayr, and Al Basrah] have limited functionality. The ports at Umm Qasr and Al Basrah are Iraq's major commercial ports and constitute the natural distributing centers for overseas supplies. Al Basrah, and the lesser port at Khawar az Zubayr were closed during the Iran-Iraq conflict and have not reopened. Due to the build-up of sand in the Shat el Arab this port is only accessable for vessels with little draft. The Port of Umm Qasr lies about 90 kms south of Basrah at the entry of the Shat el Arabs and is at the moment the only seaport for direct deliveries into Iraq.

The Basrah refinery was put out of operation in Operation Desert Fox in 1998. Iraq has rebuilt it however, and the refinery is operating at near capacity, which is approximately 140,000 barrels per day. Under UN Security Council Resolutions and the oil-for-food program, Iraq is permitted to export oil only through the approved facilities in Mina al Baqr in the northern Persian Gulf and via the oil pipeline through Turkey through the port of Ceyhan. The production and export of gasoil from the Basrah refinery is outside the oil-for-food program and a violation of UN sanctions. Since repairing the Basrah refinery, Iraq has steadily increased the amount of oil illegally exported via the Persian Gulf. Illicit oil exports averaged about 50,000 b/d for much of 1998, until they ended with the attack on the Basrah refinery in December of 1998. Iraq resumed exports in August of 1999. Smuggling reached 70,000 b/d in December and averaged about 100,000 b/d in January 2000.

Camp Breadbasket Camp Stephen

Camp Breadbasket was located on the outskirts of Basrah.

Basrah Airport

The Basrah Airport reopened in August 2005 to international flights. The first flight arrived from the United Arab Emirates. Domestic flights between Basrah and Baghdad began in June of 2005. Despite the approximately $5 million invested in the reconstruction by the US Army Corps of Engineers, promblems pertaining to sewage and air conditioning persisted as of late 2005.

Although the USAF had a significant contigent at the airport, the RAF retained the largest. Camp Cherokee was located just south of Basrah. Many of the facilities at Camp Cherokee (showers, toilets, etc.) were of a higher grade than many other Coalition camps and bases in the region.

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Page last modified: 13-11-2016 18:59:45 ZULU