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Basra - A view from our expert author


The city is penetrated by a complex network of canals and streams, vital for irrigation and general agricultural use.

Gavin Young lived in Basra for two years during the 1950s. Today the visitor can capture some of that romantic aura, but the last 30 years of war, invasion and insurrection have left their mark on the city. Much needs to be done to renew, cleanse, construct and revitalise this port.

Basra vies with Mosul as Iraq’s second city. It is the principal port of Iraq and is situated on the banks of the Shatt Al-Arab (the waters formed by the union of the Tigris and Euphrates). The adjacent terrain is low lying and deeply intersected by creeks and small watercourses peopled by date palms which do much to enhance the region. The city is penetrated by a complex network of canals and streams, vital for irrigation and general agricultural use. These canals were once used to transport goods and people throughout the city, hence the misnomer ‘Venice of the East’ ascribed to Basra. Today the drop in the levels of water and the extreme pollution of the waterways has made such use impossible. The budding port of yesterday has diminished and moved south of the city centre, and the Shatt Al-Arab is no longer so crowded with large shipping and boats scampering in all directions. The port area is surrounded by devastation and derelict land. The actual docks cannot be visited without special permission. These docks are capable of handling large ships and container freight traffic which the Shatt Al-Arab cannot.

The weather is the major drawback to Basra. The summer humidity is intense and temperatures oft en soar to above 50°C.

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