In a 23-page report released today, "Basra: Crime and Insecurity Under British Occupation," Human Rights Watch charged that U.S. and British authorities failed to plan for or provide adequate forces to carry out their international legal obligation as the occupying power.
U.S. and U.K. forces have defended their poor security performance in Iraq by arguing that they lack personnel to patrol city streets. But the Human Rights Watch report documents other failings that have nothing to do with the number of troops on the ground.
"The coalition forces in Basra simply haven't made security a high enough priority, and that was obvious from the moment they entered the city," said Saman Zia-Zarifi, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Eight weeks later, there's simply no excuse for the continuing insecurity on the ground."
Security conditions in Basra are better than in Baghdad and some other cities occupied by U.S. forces, but Basra's citizens remain fearful for their lives and property.
Human Rights Watch researchers spent four weeks in Basra and southern Iraq interviewing residents and British soldiers and commanders. While the city's streets showed some signs of improved security over this period, hospitals reported up to five gunshot homicides daily, and another five or seven gunshot injuries. Carjackings and organized looting continued to plague neighborhoods. Women and girls were reluctant to return to jobs and schools while criminals roamed the streets and attacked buildings.
Journalists entering the city in early April in the wake of British forces reported thousands of looters carrying on their activity in plain view of British troops. The failure to respond convinced many residents that security was not a priority for the coalition forces.
The shortcomings of British efforts in Basra go beyond numbers, Human Rights Watch said. The coalition has not communicated with the local population on security issues; not deployed international police or judicial personnel; relied on combat troops for policing and security duties without appropriate training; and not arranged protection for victims and witnesses regarding past and current crimes.
"Coalition forces had the duty to provide security for civilians as soon as they took control over Basra," Zia-Zarifi said. "There is something terribly wrong when Iraqis are now calling for their former corrupt and brutal police force to provide some semblance of security."
British officers responsible for police forces in Basra told Human Rights Watch they lacked sufficient troops and international support to provide security for Basra's 1.5 million people. As of mid-May, some 480 members of the Royal Military Police were available in the British-occupied provinces of Basra and Misan, and only a hundred of these were carrying out street patrols in Basra. A newly created Auxiliary Police has only 600 poorly trained Iraqi officers.