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Life in Baghdad

August 04th, 2020

Baghdad is Iraq’s largest city and its capital. With an estimated population of approximately 8,850,000, it is the second largest city in the Arab world, after Cairo.

Located along the Tigris River, the city was founded in the 8th century and became the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate. Over the next five centuries, Baghdad evolved into the most significant cultural center of Arab and Islamic civilization and was truly one of the greatest cities in the world, gaining a reputation in the world as it was known then as the "Center of Learning." In fact, a well-known Arab saying states that “Books are written in Cairo, published in Beirut, and read in Baghdad,” denoting its regional reputation in modern times as an intellectual center.

Baghdad was the largest city in the Arab World for much of the Abbasid era. The city was largely destroyed at the hands of the Mongol Empire in 1258, resulting in a decline that would linger through many centuries due to frequent plagues and warfare. With the recognition of Iraq as an independent state in 1938, Baghdad regained its former prominence as a significant center of Arab culture and learning.

With the rise of dictatorship and decades of war that ensued, followed by the struggle against terrorism, the city suffered great damage to its infrastructure and institutions. However, the city is recovering rapidly now and AUIB is playing a key role in the revival of Baghdad and Iraq. Cafes along the Tigris River are once again humming with activity, night life has returned as families and couples and groups of friends enjoy the many parks and promenades along the waterfronts, savoring ice-cream and fresh juices, while restaurants serve up dishes from around the world. Clubs and restaurants throb with social life until the early morning hours, and streets are jammed with cars on weekend nights as seemingly the entire city turns out to enjoy the cooler evening hours. Many restaurants stay open well past midnight as Iraqi groups and families enjoy late banquets and a vibrant social atmosphere. Malls proliferate across the city selling a wide array of products from around the world, providing air-conditioned oases during the hottest days. It is truly a completely different picture than what many people remember from just a few years ago.

Likewise, al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic intellectual center of Baghdad with its many bookstores and cafes is once again packed with booksellers and readers, intellectuals crowding the cafes, and readers eager for books in many languages, a testament to the spirit of Baghdadis after the street was bombed by terrorists in 2007. Universities are reviving and rebuilding after years of neglect, testament to the spiritual strength and vigor of the Iraqi nation. The revival of this intellectual center of the Middle East perhaps symbolizes the strength and resilience of the Iraqi people better than anything else.

While much remains to be done, great progress has been made. Baghdad continues experiencing its revival as new retail outlets and hotels are being built and infrastructure repaired. As a new and vital part of this exciting city on the Tigris, the American University of Iraq - Baghdad will help pave the way for a complete development of the city and region and give young Iraqis opportunities they have too often been denied until now. It’s an exciting time and an exciting place to launch a university!

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