Middle East Briefs

Parallel to the Center’s scholarly work, Middle East Briefs provides a brief analysis of a single issue at the top of the region’s political, social, or economic agenda. Targeted primarily at decision-makers and opinion leaders, the publication was launched in 2005.

Latest Brief

September 2021 – The Birth of Sadr City and Popular Protest in Iraq

Huma Gupta

Middle East Brief 144 (Summary) — The creation of the suburban Baghdad district of Madinat al-Thawra (Revolution City, later known as Saddam City and today as Sadr City) in 1959 is widely remembered as a heroic act by Iraq’s new republican government to house the thousands of rural migrants living at the time in reed mat and mudbrick huts. In this Brief, Huma Gupta revisits the birth of this famous housing project and argues that it was not due to the benevolent action of a populist leader and should not be seen as a model for top-down development projects in Iraq. She traces how migrants who came to Baghdad in the early- to mid-twentieth century formed an enduring urban underclass that collectively organized to demand housing, services, and higher wages. Thawra was conceived in response to years of worker protests, but its creation led to violent land dispossession on Baghdad’s outskirts and the enclave’s lack of basic services exacerbated economic inequality and hardened patterns of class-based spatial segregation. This history of dispossession and deprivation help explain why Thawra/Saddam City/Sadr City became and remains to this day a center for mass-based social mobilization in Iraq.

Read Middle East Brief 144 (PDF)

Huma Gupta, Neubauer Junior Research Fellow at the Crown Center from 2020-2021.