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A street map of Baghdad
A street map of Baghdad

Baghdad (بغداد) is the capital of Iraq and the Baghdad Province. It is the second largest city in Southwest Asia after Tehran, with the 2003 population estimated at 5,772,000. Situated on the Tigris River at , the city was once the center of Islamic civilization.



The city of Baghdad was founded on the west bank of the Tigris at some point between 762 and 767 by the Abbasid dynasty, led by Caliph al-Mansur. The city was probably built on the site of an earlier Persian village. This city replaced Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire and Damascus as the capital of a Muslim empire stretching from North Africa to Persia. The origin of the city's name is uncertain: some believe it is from the Persian for "God-given" derived from "bagh" (God) and "dad" (given), while others believe it is from an Aramaic phrase for "sheep enclosure." A circular wall was built around the town, and Baghdad became known as the "Round City."

The roundness of course points to the fact that it was based on Persian precedents such as Firouzabad in Persia. In fact, it is now known that the two designers who were hired by al-Mansur to plan the city's design were Naubakht , a former Persian Zoroastrian, and Mashallah, a former Jew from Khorasan, Iran. (p 10)

A centre of learning

Within a generation of its founding, Baghdad become a hub of learning and commerce. Some sources suggest that it contained over a million inhabitants, though others say the actual figure may have been only a fraction of this. A large portion of the population of Baghdad originated from all over Iran especially from Khorasan. Many of the tales in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights are set in the Baghdad of this period—dubbed Madinat as-Salam ("City of Peace") by Shahrazad—and feature its most celebrated ruler, the Caliph Harun al-Rashid.

Baghdad was one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the world, home to Muslims, Christians, Jews and pagans from across the Middle East and Central Asia.

Early invaders

The city's population was between 300,000 and 500,000 in the 9th century. Baghdad's early meteoric growth slowed due to troubles within the Caliphate, including relocations of the capital to Samarra (during 808819 and 836892), the loss of the western and easternmost provinces, and periods of political domination by the Iranian Buwayhids (9451055) and Seljuk Turks (10551135). Nevertheless, the city remained one of the cultural and commercial hubs of the Islamic world until February 10, 1258, when it was sacked by the Mongols under Hulagu Khan. The Mongols massacred 800,000 of the city's inhabitants, including the Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta'sim, and destroyed large sections of the city. The canals and dykes forming the city's irrigation system were also destroyed. The sack of Baghdad put an end to the Abbasid Caliphate, a blow from which the Arab civilization never fully recovered.

At this point Baghdad was ruled by the Il-Khanids, the Mongol emperors of Iran. In 1401, Baghdad was again sacked by the Mongols, led by Timur ("Tamerlane"). It became a provincial capital controlled by the Jalayirid (14001411), Qara Quyunlu (14111469), Aq Quyunlu (14691508), and Safavid (15081534) dynasties. In 1534, Baghdad was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Under the Ottomans, Baghdad fell into a period of decline, partially as a result of the enmity between its rulers and Persia. For a time, Baghdad had been the largest city in the Middle East before being overtaken by Constantinople in the 16th century.


Baghdad remained under Ottoman rule until the establishment of the kingdom of Iraq under British control in 1921, followed by formal independence in 1932 and full independence in 1946. The city's population grew from an estimated 145,000 in 1900 to 580,000 in 1950. During the 1970s, Baghdad experienced a period of prosperity and growth because of a sharp increase in the price of oil, Iraq's main export. New infrastructure including modern sewage, water, and highway facilities were built during this period. However, the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s was a difficult time for the city, as money flowed into the army and thousands of residents were killed. Iran launched a number of missile attacks against Baghdad, although they caused relatively little damage and few casualties.

Conflict with America

The Persian Gulf War of 1991 caused severe damage to Baghdad, particularly its transportation, power, and sanitary infrastructure. However, President George H.W. Bush decided not to have U.S. troops advance to and capture Baghdad - thus leaving Saddam Hussein in power - perhaps in part because of the heavy civilian casualties that would likely have resulted from an attack on the city.

Baghdad was bombed heavily in March and April 2003 in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and fell under US control by April 7-April 9. Additional damage was caused by the severe looting during the days following the end of the war. With the deposition of Saddam Hussein's regime, the city was occupied by U.S. troops. The Coalition Provisional Authority established a three square mile (8 km²) "Green Zone" within the heart of the city from which it ruled Iraq during the period before the new Iraqi government was established. The Coalition Provisional Authority ceded power to the interim government at the end of June 2004 and dissolved itself.

On September 23, 2003, a Gallup poll indicated that about two-thirds of Baghdad residents said that the removal of the Iraqi leader was worth the hardships they encountered, and that they expected a better life in five years' time. As time passed, however, support for the occupation declined dramatically. In April 2004, USA Today reported that a follow-up Gallup poll in Baghdad indicated that "only 13 percent of the people now say the invasion of Iraq was morally justifiable. In the 2003 poll, more than twice that number saw it as the right thing to do."[1]

Most residents of Baghdad became impatient with the occupation because essential services such as electricity were still unreliable more than a year after the invasion. In the hot summer of 2004, electricity was only available intermittently in most areas of the city. An additional pressing concern was the lack of security. The curfew imposed immediately after the invasion had been lifted in the winter of 2003, but the city that had once had a vibrant night life was still considered too dangerous after dark for many citizens. Those dangers included kidnapping, sexual assault and the risk of being caught in fighting between security forces and insurgents.


The city has nine district councils, with members selected from the 88 Neighborhood Advisory Councils. The number of neighborhood representatives on the district council is based upon a community’s population. There is also a Baghdad City Advisory Council which has 37 members drawn from the district councils, again based on the district’s population.


Baghdad sits on the Tigris River at a point where the Tigris is about 50 kilometres from the Euphrates River. The city is mostly flat, with the western side of the city having wider boulevards, more expensive homes and more government buildings. Low-income housing is generally located in the east.

Although the city itself, with its riverside location, has a number of green spaces, residents often feel the influence of the desert to the south and west in the form of sandstorms.

Historically Baghdad was of great importance to international trade. Commerce routes from India, Persia and Europe met at the city. Today, the affluent neighborhood of Kerrada is Baghdad's business district. Baghdad is still an important node for road, air and train traffic. The city's main airport is Baghdad International Airport.


Baghdad has always played an important role in Arab cultural life and has been the home of noted writers, musicians and visual artists.


Some of the important cultural institutions in the city include:

  • Iraqi National Orchestra – Rehearsals and performances were briefly interrupted during the second Gulf War, but have since returned to normal.
  • National Theatre of Iraq – The theatre was looted during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, but efforts are underway to restore the theatre. [2].

The live theatre scene received a boost during the 1990s when UN sanctions limited the import of foreign films. As many as 30 movie theatres were reported to have been converted to live stages, producing a wide range of comedies and dramatic productions.[3]

Institutions offering cultural education in Baghdad include the Academy of Music , Institute of Fine Arts and the Music and Ballet School . Baghdad is also home to a number of museums which housed artifacts and relics of ancient civilizations; many of these were stolen, and the museums looted, during the widespread chaos immediately after U.S. forces entered the city.

During the 2003 occupation of Iraq, AFN Iraq ("Freedom Radio") broadcast news and entertainment within Baghdad, among other locations.

Sights and monuments

Points of interest include the National Museum of Iraq, whose priceless collection of artifacts was looted during the 2003 invasion, the iconic Hands of Victory arches, and the Baghdad zoo. Thousands of ancient manuscripts in the National Library were destroyed when the building burnt down during the second Persian Gulf War. The Al Khadimiya Mosque in the northwest of Baghdad (in Kazimain) is one of the most important Shi'ite religious buildings in Iraq. It was finished in 1515 and the 7th (Musa ibn Jafar al-Kazim) and the 9th Imams (Mohammad al-Taqi) were buried here.

One of the oldest buildings is the 12th century or 13th century Abbasid Palace .

See also

External links

Further reading

Last updated: 06-01-2005 23:21:23
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