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The first conflict between local Bedouin tribes and Sasanian forces seems to have been in 634, when the Arabs were defeated at the Battle of the Bridge. There a force of some 5,000 Muslims under Abu 'Ubayd ath-Thaqafi was routed by the Persians. In 637 a much larger Muslim force under Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas defeated the main Persian army at the battle of Al-Qadisiyya and moved on to sack Ctesiphon. By the end of the following year (638), the Muslims had conquered almost all of Iraq, and the last Sasanian king, Yazdegerd III, had fled to Iran, where he was killed in 651.

The Muslim conquest was followed by mass immigration of Arabs from eastern Arabia and Oman. These new arrivals did not disperse and settle throughout the country; instead they established two new garrison cities, at Al-Kufah, near ancient Babylon, and at Basra in the south. The intention was that the Muslims should be a separate community of fighting men and their families living off taxes paid by the local inhabitants. In the north of the country, Mosul began to emerge as the most important city and the base of a Muslim governor and garrison. Apart from the Persian elite and the Zoroastrian priests, whose property was confiscated, most of the local people were allowed to keep their possessions and their religion.

Iraq now became a province of the Muslim Caliphate, which stretched from North Africa and later Spain in the west to Sind (now southern Pakistan) in the east. At first the capital of the Caliphate was at Madinah (Medina), but, after the murder of the third caliph, 'Uthman, in 656, his successor, the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law Ali, made Iraq his base. In 661, however, 'Ali was murdered in Al-Kufah, and the caliphate passed to the rival Umayyad family in Syria. Iraq became a subordinate province, even though it was the richest area of the Muslim world and the one with the largest Muslim population. This situation gave rise to continual discontent with Umayyad rule; this discontent was in various forms.

In 680 'Ali's son al-Husayn arrived in Iraq from Madinah, hoping that the people of Al-Kufah would support him. They failed to act, and his small group of followers was massacred at Karbala', but his memory lingered on as a source of inspiration for all who opposed the Umayyads. In later centuries, Karbala' and 'Ali's tomb at nearby An-Najaf became important centres of Shi'ite pilgrimage and are still greatly revered today. The Iraqis had their opportunity after the death in 683 of the caliph Yazid I when the Umayyads faced threats from many quarters. In Al-Kufah the initiative was taken by al-Mukhtar ibn Abi 'Ubayd, who was supported by many "mawali", non-Arab converts to Islam who felt they were treated as second-class citizens. Al-Mukhtar was killed in 687, but the Umayyads realized that strict rule was required. The caliph 'Abd al-Malik (685-705) appointed the fearsome al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf as his governor in Iraq and all of the east. Al-Hajjaj became a legend as a stern but just ruler. His firm measures aroused the opposition of the local Arab elite, and in 701 there was a massive rebellion led by Muhammad ibn al-Ash'ath. The insurrection was defeated only with the aid of Syrian soldiers. Iraq was now very much a conquered province, and al-Hajjaj established a new city at Wasit, halfway between Al-Kufah and Basra, to be a base for a permanent Syrian garrison. In a more positive way, he encouraged Iraqis to join the expeditions led by Qutaybah ibn Muslim that between 705 and 715 conquered what is now Central Asia for Islam. Even after al-Hajjaj's death in 714, the Umayyad-Syrian grip on Iraq remained firm, and resentment was widespread.



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