1991 Uprising in Iraq

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1991 Uprising in Iraq
Demolition of the wall of Imam Husayn's (a) shrine in Karbala
Demolition of the wall of Imam Husayn's (a) shrine in Karbala
DateSha'ban 1411/March 1991
CausePublic dissatisfaction with the Ba'ath regime
ResultFailure of the uprising
People of Iraq
Ba'th regime of Iraq headed by Saddam Husayn
Saddam Husayn • Husayn Kamil • Taha Yasin Ramidan
Casualties and losses
About three hundred thousand people were killed and about two million Iraqis were displaced

The 1991 uprising in Iraq or al-Intifada al-Sha'baniyya (Arabic: الإنتِفاضة الشَّعبانيّة) refers to the uprising of the people of Iraq against the government of Saddam Hussein which began in Sha'ban 1411/March 1991. The uprisings began from Basra and protesters took over fourteen of eighteen governorates of Iraq in fifteen days.

In reaction to them, the Ba'ath party killed tens of thousands of people and about two million people were displaced. Some of the clergies were arrested or executed and some others had to leave Iraq. Also, in the attacks of the Ba'ath party, the shrines of Imam Ali (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a) were damaged and the government of Iraq destructed many seminaries, mosques, and husayniyyas.

Grounds and Beginning

The uprising began in the month of Sha'ban, 1411/March, 1991 from Basra, when an Iraqi soldier who had returned from the war with Kuwait shot at a picture of Saddam Hussein with a tank shell. After this event, people attacked the buildings of the Ba'ath party and the prison of the city and took their control. After a while, protesters took the control of Basra and by broadcasting the news of its conquest, some other governorates of Iraq were conquered by people.

Destruction of economic and welfare infrastructures of Iraq after the war with Kuwait, remaining damages after the war with Iran and people's dissent toward the Ba'ath regime are considered among the reasons for the uprising of the people of Iraq against Saddam. Following the attack of Iraq against Kuwait, allied forces led by the US attacked Iraq and destroyed much of economic and welfare infrastructures of Iraq.


In Intifada Sha'baniyya, fourteen of eighteen governorates of Iraq were overtaken by people. Protesters took over the control of the governorates Diyala, Wasit, Maysan, Basra, Dhi Qar, Muthanna, Qadisiyyah, Babil, Karbala, Najaf, Dohuk, Arbil, Kirkuk, and Sulaymaniyah and only the central governorates of Saladin, Baghdad, Nineveh, and Anbar were left in the control of the government. Therefore, Intifada Sha'baniyya is considered the greatest internal challenge of Iraq during the time of Saddam Hussein.


People's movements in Najaf began on Sha'ban 16/March 3 in the form of protests around the shrine of Imam Ali (a) and turned to armed clashes between groups of people and Ba'ath forces after a while and led to killing and injury of some people from both sides. Clashes continued until the noon of Sha'ban 17/March 4 and led to the victory of the groups of people and rising green flags in the center of the city.


The uprising in the city of Karbala began on Sha'ban 18/March 5, while some scattered clashes had previously happened on Sha'ban 16/March 3. People's movements continued for three days and on the third day, people took over the control of the city.


The coercive meeting of Ayatullah Khoei and Saddam Husayn after suppression of Intifada

Intifada Sha'baniyya lasted 15 days. Revolutionaries were severely suppressed by Saddam's forces, and according to unofficial statistics, about three hundred thousand people were killed and about two million Iraqis were displaced. The three cities of Najaf, Karbala, and Kirkuk received most damages.

Ba'ath forces destructed tens of mosques, seminaries, and husayniyyas in Karbala and Najaf. Many precious manuscripts were destroyed. After the suppression of the uprising, Ayatullah Khoei together with some of his family members and close people were arrested and transferred to Baghdad and after some days, he was forced to speak with Saddam in front of television's cameras.

Representatives of Ayatullah Khoei, Sayyid Muhammad Rida Musawi Khalkhali, Sayyid Ja'far Bahr al-'Ulum, and Sayyid 'Izz al-Din Bahr al-'Ulum were executed after the suppression of the uprising. Sayyid Muhammad Sabziwari, Shaykh Muhammad Rida Shabib Sa'idi, and Sayyid Muhammad Salih Khirsan emigrated from Iraq.

Damage of the Holy Sites

Destruction of the wall of the Holy Shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a)

The leader of fighting the uprising in Karbala was Husayn Kamil, Saddam's son-in-law and the suppression of the uprising in Najaf was led by Taha Yasin Ramadan, one of the famous and important members of Ba'ath party. Saddam's forces attacked Karbala and Najf using tanks and field guns. In these attacks, the shrines of Imam Ali (a), Imam al-Husayn (a) and Abbas (a) were damaged and afterwards were closed for six months.

Supporters of the Government

Policy of the US government after pushing Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991 was to change the Iraqi government, but in Intifada Sha'baniyya, George Bush allowed Saddam to use all his military forces against people; therefore, this shift of policy was considered to prevent the formation of a religious government in Iraq.

Role of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran

According to the report of some sources, the terrorist group of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (Munafiqin) cooperated with the Iraq's government in suppression of Intifada Sha'baniyya. According to some documents, they had roles in suppression of the people of Basra and buried many of the killed people in collective graves.

Later in October 29, 2015, a group of people who introduced themselves as the families of the victims of Intifada Sha'baniyya killed twenty five members of the People's Mojahedin Organization and wounded two hundred of them in missile attacks.


The damages of the dome of the holy shrine of al-Abbas (a)

Ayatullah Khoei issued a statement on Sha'ban 18/March 5, two days after the beginning of the uprising in Najaf and ordered people to observe religious rules, keep away from people's properties and public treasures, bury the corpses remained in the streets and not mutilate or do similar acts to them. Two days later, Ayatullah Khoei issued another statement and there, he appointed nine clergies to go to different cities and manage the affairs.

Ayatullah Sayyid Abd al-A'la Sabziwari among great scholars of Najaf too issued a fatwa and declared his support for Intifada. Also, Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim supported Intifada and his advocates too had a leading role in Intifada Sha'baniyya.

In Iran, one day was announced as the public mourning for the killing of the people of Iraq and insulting the holy sites; and Ayatullah Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, sent out a message.

Reasons of Failure

Researchers have mentioned some of the reasons for the failure of Intifada Sha'baniyya as:

  1. Government's usage of highly destructive heavy weapons,
  2. Usage of trained forces such as the presidential guard,
  3. Airborne control over revolutionaries,
  4. Comprehensive privileges for killings people,
  5. Disharmony among Iraqi groups,
  6. Revolutionaries' unplanned control over cities,
  7. Lack of the spirit of cooperation, unity, and nationalism among the groups participating in the uprising.