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Umm Qasr (Arabic: أم قصر), is a port city in southern Iraq. It stands on the canalised Khawr az-Zubayr, part of the Khawr Abd Allah estuary which leads to the Persian Gulf. It is separated from the border of Kuwait by a small inlet; prior to the Persian Gulf War traffic between Kuwait and Iraq flowed over a bridge across the waterway.
Umm Qasr was originally a small fishing town but was used as a military port on a few occasions. It was said to have been the site of Alexander the Great's landing in Mesopotamia in 325 BC. During the Second World War a temporary port was established there by the Allies to unload supplies to dispatch to the Soviet Union. It fell back into obscurity after the war, but the government of King Faisal II sought to establish a permanent port there in the 1950s.<ref>"Iraq Hopes For Revival As An International Highway", The Times, 15 May 1961</ref>
After the Iraqi Revolution of 1958, a naval base was established at Umm Qasr. The port was subsequently founded in 1961 by the Iraqi ruler General Abdul-Karim Qassem. It was intended to serve as Iraq's only "deep water" port, reducing the country's dependence on the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway that marks the border with Iran. The port facilities were built by a consortium of companies from West Germany, Sweden and Lebanon, with a railway line connecting it to Basra and Baghdad.<ref>"General Kassim Founds £15M. Port", The Times, 27 March 1961</ref>
During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) its importance increased as fighting restricted access to other ports further east. Umm Qasr was threatened after the successful Iranian invasion and occupation of the al-Faw peninsula in 1986. However, the port never fell during the Iran-Iraq War.
Access to the port was a significant issue in the territorial dispute with Kuwait which led to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Both countries contested ownership of the inlet leading to Umm Qasr as well as control of the nearby Kuwaiti islands of Bubiyan and Warbah.<ref>"Iraq - First Persian Gulf War - Causes", Encyclopædia Britannica (2006)</ref> After the war, during which the port was bombed, control of the inlet was transferred to Kuwait, and a large trench and sand berm was constructed along the border of the two nations. The Iraqi government rejected the border changes and continued to claim Kuwaiti territory near the port.<ref>"Kuwait - The First Persian Gulf War and its aftermath", Encyclopædia Britannica (2006)</ref> Meanwhile much commerce was shifted to Umm Qasr away from Basra by deliberate Iraqi government policy to punish Basra for its role in the post-war rebellions against the rule of Saddam Hussein.
Umm Qasr was the target of one of the first major military operations in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, on March 29, 2003. The assault on the port was spearheaded by British Royal Marines and Polish GROM troops, but Iraqi forces put up unexpectedly strong resistance, requiring several days' fighting before the area was cleared of defenders.<ref>"Fierce battle around port," The Guardian, 24 March 2003</ref> After the waterway was de-mined and reopened, Umm Qasr played an important role in the shipment of humanitarian supplies to Iraqi civilians.<ref>"Iraq aid confined to south", The Guardian, 2 April 2003</ref>
During a House of Commons debate in late March 2003, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon compared Umm Qasr to the southern English city of Southampton. The analogy was met with scepticism among the troops on the ground. A British soldier was widely quoted in media reports as retorting, "There's no beer, no prostitutes and people are shooting at us. It's more like Portsmouth." <ref>"War games", The Guardian, 2 April 2003</ref>
In January 2006, the 100th British soldier to die in Iraq, Corporal Gordon Pritchard, was killed in a bomb explosion in the town.<ref>"Latest victim was one of the first liberators of Iraq", The Times, 1 February 2006</ref>
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