The city of Basra, with population of 1.5 million, is Iraq's main seaport and second largest city. It is situated some 550 kilometers south-east of Baghdad along the western shore of Shatt-al Arab, at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, 130 kilometers from the Persian Gulf.
Basra suffered tremendously during Saddam Hussein's rule. The vast majority of the city's population are Shi`a Muslim Arabs. Shi`a Muslims comprise an estimated 55 percent of Iraq's population. Despite their numbers, Shi`a Muslims have been historically disempowered and oppressed in Iraq. As one of the chief population centers of Iraq's Shi`a Muslims, the city was a center of opposition to the Ba'th government. Basra's Shi`a residents rose up against Saddam Hussein after the rout of Iraqi forces in 1991, spurred in part by then-U.S. President George H. Bush's call to the Iraqi people to "take matters into their own hands to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside." The uprising began in Basra and quickly spread to other major Shi`a areas in southern Iraq (as well as to the predominantly Kurdish areas in northern Iraq). Throughout the south, vengeance killings took place as the population vented its anger against anyone associated with the Ba'th government, killing hundreds of Ba'th party officials, local bureaucrats, and intelligence agents. However, the Iraqi government managed to maintain its control over the country and launched a brutal campaign of reprisal when the United States failed to support the uprising. In the ensuing retaliation, thousands of civilians from Basra were killed and thousands more imprisoned or "disappeared."
- 2003 Human Rights Watch
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