Capital of Iraq with about 7.4 million inhabitants (2005 estimate), situated in the interior of the country on the river Tigris at the point where land transportation meets river transportation, and where the distance between Tigris and the other main river of Iraq, Euphrates, is the shortest. The distance to the Persian Gulf is a sailing distance of about 900 km. The distance from Baghdad to the Euphrates is only 50 km.
Baghdad is the main transportation hub of Iraq and is linked with the two most important neighbor countries, Jordan and Syria, with excellent highways. Connections from north to south in Iraq pass near Baghdad. The country’s main airport, Baghdad International Airport, lies here as well, now back in use after more than a decade of sanctions on Iraq.
Baghdad has for centuries been the richest and economically most important city of Iraq. This has continued to be the case even after finding oil in other regions since most of the trade is administered through Baghdad.
Since the US/British-Iraq War of 2003 Baghdad has been through a period of much hardship, causing damage to both the production levels and infrastructure. But, except for governmental institutions, which have largely been dismantled and rebuilt, much of the activities of the city remains as before the war.
Baghdad has a wide variety of industries, producing leather goods, furniture, wood products, chemicals, electrical equipment, textiles, clothing, bricks, cement, tobacco, processed food, and beverages.
Baghdad is also the center of financial operations and the headquarters of the Central Bank of Iraq. Most of the national bureaucracy is located here, and for the most part, the state is the principal employer in Baghdad. The leading learning institutions are here as well, including 3 universities.
Among the industries of Baghdad are oil refineries, food-processing, tanneries, and textile mills. Baghdad still has extensive production of handicrafts, like cloth, household utensils, jewelry, leather, felt, and rugs.
The population of Baghdad has increased dramatically over the last 100 years. As late as 1932, there were 358,840 inhabitants. The majority are Muslims, and with an Arab identity. There is also a substantial Christian population and a tiny Jewish population. The Jewish community was heavily decimated in the 1950’s.
Other ethnic groups come mainly from other regions within the borders of modern Iraq, like Kurds and Armenians. Most Iranians left for Iran in the 1970s and ’80s. There are also groups of Indians, Afghans and Turks.
Baghdad is the most important centre of learning in Iraq with the University of Baghdad (established in 1957), al-Mustansiriyya University (established in 1963) and the University of Technology (established in 1974).
There are more than 1,000 primary schools in the Baghdad governorate, hundreds of intermediate and secondary schools, several vocational schools, technical institutes, and in addition to the 3 universities, al-Bakr Military Academy. Education in Iraq is free on all levels.
Baghdad was, prior to the wars of the 1980s and ’90s, one of the leading cultural centers of the Arab world. Some of the most famous sculptors, poets, and writers have come from Baghdad or worked in the city. In literature, Baghdad has earned fame for its free-verse poets.
Painting is a popular art in Baghdad, and there were until the 2003 war numerous exhibitions well attended by the population.
The National Theatre was earlier one of the best equipped in the Arab world but continued its work even under the embargo. It was however looted during the 2003 war.
Since the 2003 war, most of the institutions of Baghdad have suffered hard, especially in terms of finances, but the city has kept its communities of artists, and the major institutions are in the process of being rebuilt and reestablished or already operative.
Baghdad’s city structure is vast, with several centers. The main areas of activities are the quarters around Saadoun and al-Jamoun Streets, on the east bank of the Tigris. These were predominantly built up in the 1970s, but there are many examples of traditional architecture mainly in the outskirts. Along Rashid Street, some of the nicest old town houses of Baghdad are found, even if many now are in bad condition. In between the streets, areas of typical Baghdad houses are found. These are distinguished by the 1st floor wooden bays with latticed windows, and inner open courtyards
Roads of modern Baghdad are wide and many buildings stand free from other buildings. This especially applies to the western side of the Tigris, with the many governmental buildings, hotels, and middle and upper-class mansions.
Wide highways run through all parts of Baghdad, making it a city that is easy to move around in with a car. There are also tramways or subways in Baghdad.
Baghdad has many parks, of which Zawra park is the most popular. There are also several great monuments, of which the Martyr’s Monument of 1983 is the most impressive, with a 50-meter high split green dome at its center.
The areas beyond the Army Canal in the east have been allocated for low-income housing development, housing 20-30% of the city’s population.
There are a few monuments of the old Baghdad left. The oldest is the so-called 12th or 13th-century Abbasid Palace (it has never been proved whether it was the palace of the Caliph or just a nobleman). Second is the Mustansiriyah School and Sahrawardi Mosque, both 13th century. Baghdad’s most important religious monument is the 16th-century Kadhimayn Mosque, containing the shrine of the 7th imam of Shi’i Islam. Its style closely resembles those found in Karbala and Najaf. More than half of Baghdad’s mosques are Sunni, the rest are Shi’i.
There are numerous churches around Baghdad, belonging to the Nestorians, Armenian Orthodox, Chaldean Catholics, and Syrian Catholics. Among the expatriate communities, there are also small Russian Orthodox, Protestants, and Roman Catholics.
It didn’t take more than a few decades from the start of constructing the new residential city of Baghdad in the middle of the 8th century until it was famed as the wealthiest and richest city in the world.
TAt its inception, it was known by several names: Madinatu s-Salam, “City of Peace”, the round city (referring to its 3 concentric walls) as well as the original name of the village here, Baghdad.
The inner walls housed the palace of the Caliph and the main mosque. The second enclosed the army quarters, while the homes of the inhabitants were inside the third. On the outside of the walls, the suuq was located. The original city had a diameter of about 3,000 meters, all located to the west bank of the Tigris river.
But the original layout was to small, and the city quickly grew beyond the city walls.
All in all, the lifespan of old Baghdad was surprisingly short, only about 60-70 years. Baghdad was in 836 abandoned to Turkish chiefs, and when it later returned to being the capital of the Muslim world, the city was rebuilt on the eastern bank of the Tigris.
762: Caliph al-Mansur selects the site of the Persian village Baghdad as the location of the new administrative centre of the Caliphate.
836: The Caliph abandons Baghdad, and settles in Samarra. The new rulers of Baghdad are Turkish groups, who participate little in the development and administration of the city.
892: The Caliphate returns to Baghdad, after 56 years in Samarra.
945: Buyids invade Baghdad, leaving large parts of it in ruins. They settle as the new rulers of the city.
1055: Seljuqs take control of Baghdad, after fighting that leaves large parts of the city in ruins.
1258: Baghdad is conquered and razed by the Mongol chief Hülegü. Hundreds of thousands of citizens are massacred. The Caliph is killed, effectively ending the true Sunni Caliphate. Hülegü’s troops destroyed the dikes and canals of the irrigation system. Despite the heavy destruction, Baghdad was made into a provincial capital, subject of the Mongol emperor of Iran, the Il-Khanids.
1339: Baghdad passes over to the Jalayrids.
1401: Baghdad is sacked by Timur Lenk.
1410: Baghdad comes under the control of Turkmen dynasties.
1497: The sea route between Europe and India is discovered. This would over the coming decades lead to a dramatic reduction in Baghdad’s importance as a center for the trade between Europe and Asia.
1508: Baghdad comes under the Safavid shah.
1534: Baghdad is conquered by the troops of sultan Süleyman 1, and incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.
1623: Baghdad is conquered by the Persians.
1638: The Ottomans take back Baghdad.
1798: A permanent British diplomatic residency is established in Baghdad, in order to assist European trade on Iraq.
1860’s: Steamship travel on the Tigris allows for more trade in Baghdad, bringing back much of the city’s old wealth.
Around 1870: A process of modernization starts, as the city walls are torn down, the administration reformed and a municipal council formed, a telegraph and a newspaper started, modern hospitals and schools founded and many factories opened.
1917: Baghdad is captured from the Ottomans by British troops.
1920: Baghdad becomes the capital of the new state of Iraq. The League of Nations grants Britain a mandate to govern Iraq. Many new buildings and roads are built, and it returns to its position as the dominating city of the area around the rivers Euphrates and Tigris.
1932: Iraq receives its independence.
1957: the University of Baghdad opens.
1963: Al-Mustansiriyah University opens.
1974: the University of Technology opens.
1970’s: Increase in oil prices brings prosperity to Baghdad, resulting in many new projects and modern buildings, as well as wide-scale housing programs.
1991: During the Gulf War, many important buildings are bombed in Baghdad, as well as important installations for the infrastructure.
2003 March: Baghdad is bombed by US forces in an attack on Iraq (see the article on US/British-Iraq War) without prior Iraqi aggression and without the support of the United Nations, as had been the case in 1991. The aim is to take out or remove president Saddam Hussein.
— April 9: The main areas of Baghdad fall to Western powers, effectively ending the regime of Saddam Hussein. Looters take over the city, with the disappearance of the police.
— May: Local control over Baghdad is reestablished. Some areas remain insecure.
2004: Through the year, the security situation in Baghdad worsens. Bomb actions, street fighting, and kidnapping, both of nationals, other Muslim nationals, and Westerners cause many problems with the rebuilding of the city and its institutions.
2005 August 31: In a stampede, 965 Shi’i Muslim pilgrims are killed, following a panic caused by rumors of a suicide bomber amidst the crowds. Nearby and earlier the same day, 7 people had been killed by a bomb.