British civilian-military liaison officers have told Human Rights Watch that they have no plans to provide security for these sites. They said that they do not have sufficient troops in Basra to guard abandoned munitions sites in addition to performing their other duties.
"Exploding munitions are hurting people every day, especially children," said Reuben Brigety II, researcher in the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. "British forces should immediately secure these sites to stop these tragic accidents."
The International Committee of the Red Cross has noted at least thirty locations in Basra that contain abandoned munitions and unexploded ordnance (UXO). Most of these weapons were abandoned by Iraqi forces, although some UXO were fired by coalition forces. None of these sites has been secured by the British forces occupying Basra. Civilians have been injured when tampering with munitions abandoned there. Physicians in the Basra teaching hospital, one of three main hospitals in Basra, told Human Rights Watch that they have treated at least fifteen civilians injured by abandoned munitions between April 11 and May 5.
Sajad Kahazm, an 11-year-old boy, was badly injured on May 3 when he picked up an unexploded munition left inside his school, the Hadhramut Primary School. The munition exploded and severed his left hand. Jasim al-Malik, a physician's assistant at Basra General Hospital where the boy is being treated, said that the hospital gets five similar casualties a day, but not all survive. The exact number of injuries due to unexploded ordnance in Basra is unknown.
Human Rights Watch researchers visited one abandoned munition site near the old Basra airport. This site, about one square kilometer in area, contained at least twenty 1,100 cubic foot shipping containers, each overflowing with abandoned anti-aircraft artillery shells, mortar bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, Katyusha rockets and other munitions. Children were tampering with the containers and their contents. Many shells had been opened and their chemical contents removed. Chemical propellants from assorted munitions covered dozens of square meters of pavement, at least half the size of a tennis court.
This site is less than 0.6 kilometer from the entrance of the headquarters of the British First Fusilliers Battle Group. Like all other abandoned munitions sites in Basra, the site remains unguarded.
"Until these munitions are destroyed, the British must do more to keep civilians away from them," said Brigety. "Otherwise, these weapons will continue to harm innocent Iraqis."
Children have been seen playing soccer in the Basra stadium, on a field that is ringed with unexploded ordnance.