Baghdad was founded (762) on the west bank of the Tigris by the Abbasid caliph Mansur , who made it his capital. Its commercial position became generally unrivaled and under the caliph Harun ar-Rashid , Baghdad rose to become one of the greatest cities of Islam. It was the home of many eminent scholars, artists, and poets, who enjoyed the city's wealth and culture. The period of its utmost glory is reflected in the Thousand and One Nights, in which many of the tales are set in Baghdad. After the death (809) of Harun the seat of the caliph was moved to Samarra; when the caliphate was returned later in the century, Baghdad had already been weakened by internal struggles.
In 1258 the Mongols sacked the city and destroyed nearly all of its splendor. It revived but was captured again by Timur (1400) and by the Persians (1524). Baghdad was repeatedly contested by Persians and Turks until 1638, when it became part of the Ottoman Empire. By that time the city's population had dwindled from a peak of c.1,000,000 to only a few thousand. Baghdad was captured by the British in 1917, and in 1920 it became the capital of the newly constituted kingdom of Iraq. In the early 1950s the majority of Baghdad's large Jewish population, who were present there since the city's founding, left on organized flights to Israel. The city was the scene of a coup in 1958 that overthrew the monarchy and established the Iraqi republic.
As a result of the growing Iraqi oil industry, Baghdad experienced rapid economic and population growth. With the onset of the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88), however, Baghdad became a target for Iranian attacks; its economic development stagnated as the oil industry was affected by the war. In Aug., 1990, Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait ; as a result of coalition force reprisal action, Baghdad suffered heavy air attacks at the start of the Persian Gulf War (1991). A large portion of the city's infrastructure and military industrial capacity was destroyed, and residents lost homes, electrical power, and water services. Great amounts of foreign aid, specifically food and medical supplies, were needed to sustain the population.
In the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2004, Baghdad gradually became a terror battleground as U.S. forces were confronted by Sunni insurgents and Islamists. Sectarian fighting between Shiites and Sunnis also scarred the city, leading to more religiously homogeneous neighborhoods. Although the U.S.
surge of 2007 led to decreased levels of violence, the sectarian divisions in the city remained pronounced.
See works by F. Stark. See also R. Levy, A Baghdad Chronicle (1929, repr. 78); G. LeStrange, Baghdad During the Abbasid Caliphate (1942, repr. 1983); C. Owles, Salad Days in Baghdad (1986).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Iraq Political Geography