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Now available from Amazon.

Basra, the Failed Gulf State:
Separatism and Nationalism in Southern Iraq


Is Iraq "artificial", on the verge of disintegrating? This book presents, for the first time, an actual case of southern Iraqi separatism: a daring bid to turn Basra into a pro-British mercantile mini-state. The study uncovers the dynamics and limits of southern separatism, casts new light on the victory of Iraqi nationalism in the south and discusses the challenges of post-2003 regionalism in a federal Iraq. It also explores the cosmopolitan character of Basra historically a city of ethno-religious coexistence shared by Arabs and Persians, Indians and Europeans, Shi'is and Sunnis, Akhbaris and Shaykhis, Jews and Christians. Finally, the book analyses Basra's wider entanglements, from regional connections with Zubayr, Kuwait, Muhammara, Najd and Bahrain, to themes in historiography like Afrasiyab and the Portuguese, the medieval Zanj revolt of the African slaves, as well as ancient Sumer.

"From the abundance of recent publications on modern Iraq, Reidar Visser's work on the origins and development of twentieth-century separatism in the southern region of that country stands out. For anyone seriously interested in the current conflict in Iraq over the question of federalism versus centralism, this meticulously researched study provides a highly instructive historical perspective."

Werner Ende, professor emeritus of Islamic studies at Albert-Ludwigs-Universitšt, Freiburg, Germany

“This is a fascinating account, and it is a pleasure to commend Visser’s careful use of Ottoman documents to reconstruct the history of pre-war Basra (used for the first time), and of British and Iraqi materials for the mandate and beyond…”
Peter Sluglett, University of Utah, in International History Review, vol. 29. no. 1 (2007)


Hala Fattah in Middle East Journal vol. 60 no. 4 (2006)

“A strong argument against the simplistic notion of the ‘artificiality’ of modern Iraqi nationalism... a breath of fresh air when compared to a plethora of recent works that are unfortunately ill-informed yet strongly judgemental about Iraqi history.”

Thabit A.J. Abdullah in International Journal of Contemporary Iraq Studies vol. 1 no. 3 (2007)

“A timely exercise in counterfactual micro-history … Using archival sources, memoirs, private papers, and newspapers, Visser weaves the story of imperial policy, state development, individual political pragmatism, changing tribal allegiances, and the territorial machinations of Iraq's neighbors to add this important contribution to the growing literature on Basra.”

Reeva Spector Simon in American Historical Review vol. 112 no. 4 (2007)

“An almost unrivalled treatise of a hitherto widely unknown, neglected chapter of modern Iraqi history.”

Henner Fürtig, German Institute of Global and Area Studies & Deutsches Orient Institut, Hamburg, in Orient vol. 47 no. 3 (2006)

Listed among editor’s picks in Middle East Report no. 239 (2006)

Honourable mention in Best Books on Iraq by epic (Education for Peace in Iraq Center)

Review, American Historical Review vol. 112 no. 4, October 2007

Review, The International History Review vol. 29 no. 1, March 2007 (1), (2), (3)

Review, The Middle East Journal vol. 60 no. 4 (2006)

Review, Orient vol. 47 no. 3, 2006 [in German], (1), (2)

Review, Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), no. 788, 30 March–5 April 2006

Review, World History Connected vol. 4 no. 1 (2006)

Related feature article by Peter Beinart, The New Republic, 18 December 2006

Details of publication:
Reidar Visser, Basra, the Failed Gulf State: Separatism and Nationalism in Southern Iraq (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2005; New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2006). 256 pages, 16 black & white photographs, 2 maps.

Price: EUR 29.90 (approximately $34.50/£19.70). ISBN 3-8258-8799-5.



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