Human Rights Watch heard Iraqis across the south of the country argue that if coalition forces could not protect them, they should be allowed to arm and protect themselves. Many residents also urged, somewhat reluctantly, that the old police force should be returned to the streets with weapons in order to provide security. Attempts to create a new police force, utilizing some former police as well as new recruits, have already begun throughout the cities of southern Iraq, albeit with little or no guidance or coordination at the national level. Similarly, efforts to provide new judges and prisons suitable for a proper criminal justice system are hampered by lack of coordination. Human Rights Watch's research demonstrated that serious problems exist with the vetting and training (or retraining) of returning or new police officers and judicial administrators.
Coalition forces seem to have arrived unprepared to meet their obligations to provide security and justice in the areas under their occupation. They lacked troops trained to provide direct security to the civilian population and military police were scarce and late, with some 400 Royal Military Police available only in late April for patrolling British military installations as well as the entire British controlled areas of Basra and Misan governorates. More than a month after they took control of Basra, judicial and legal personnel capable of administering a justice system in the short-term, and helping recreate a local system in the medium and long-term, had still not arrived. As of mid-May, there was still no indication of a national level effort to coordinate the restructuring or recreation of the police and justice systems. No real commitments had been made to bring international civilian police and legal experts to the area. These shortcomings are all the more glaring in light of the experience of many coalition troops (and in particular British forces) with similar problems in peacekeeping in Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor.
The experience of coalition forces in Kosovo is specially relevant because of the broad similarities between peacekeeping following that conflict and the situation in Iraq: the absence of any government infrastructure, the predictability of an outbreak of severe lawlessness, and a history of tremendous human rights abuses.
Some of the key lessons learned in previous international peacekeeping efforts seem to have been forgotten in southern Iraq-most significantly, the necessity of deploying international law enforcement and judicial personnel as quickly as possible after the end of hostilities. In Kosovo, law enforcement personnel were not in place until more than six months after the end of hostilities, providing a crucial window of opportunity for criminal and political elements opposing the peace process to coalesce and take root. Military forces did not have the mandate or the training to provide security or to collect evidence necessary for providing accountability for old and ongoing human rights abuses. Finally, the international personnel provided were poorly educated in local customs and at any rate were deployed for short periods of time, minimizing their ability to supervise justice and law enforcement and to provide training to local officials.
Four years after the end of military activity in Kosovo, the peace process there is hampered by a cycle of violence fueled by failure to bring accountability for human rights abuses, rampant criminality, and ongoing reprisals. In retrospect, the failure to address these issues immediately after the end of military activity fostered and aggravated these problems in Kosovo. The same problems can and must be avoided in Iraq.
Despite the knowledge gained from these experiences, coalition forces in Iraq clearly were incapable of providing adequate security for the population in Iraq living under occupation. Due to the lack of sufficient troops to effectively patrol and secure the cities of southern Iraq, coalition forces have had to improvise to provide even minimal security. For the first three weeks after the occupation, combat troops were responsible for providing security due to the absence of military police. These troops, untrained in the basics of police work and investigation, were ill-suited to the task, but had to suffice in the absence of military police or international civilian police. In Iraq, by all accounts, the focus of coalition forces was on force protection, to the detriment to Iraqi civilians. One result, frequently commented upon by Iraqis, was a focus on responding robustly to any use of weapons, while essentially ignoring other incidents of lawlessness and looting.
One notable example investigated by Human Rights Watch occurred on April 20, when a dispute between two neighbors prompted British overreaction, resulting in a British armored vehicle driving into a neighboring house and setting it on fire while its residents were sheltering inside. The family of `Abdul Karim `Ali Muhammad, the house's owner, including his parents, his wife and three children, and his brother's family, miraculously emerged unscathed from the conflagration.
According to several eyewitnesses, a long-standing dispute between two neighbors culminated with one taking up an AK-47 and firing it at the other. The altercation attracted the attention of British forces (local residents suspected that the aggrieved neighbor had told British troops that a member of the Iraqi government militia known as Saddam's Fedayeen was sheltering in the area), who responded with at least three armored vehicles. In the ensuing confrontation, eyewitnesses unanimously stated that British forces came under attack from the neighbor, using AK-47s. The same witnesses were equally clear that British troops responded with overwhelming force in a manner potentially disastrous for civilians in the area.
Walid Amin `Abdul Razzaq, a neighbor, described the scene:
The British armored vehicle stopped in front of our neighbor's house. We were all hiding on the other side of the street. Then we saw the armored vehicle go through our neighbor's wall, into their garden, and then it seemed to fire inside the house. Suddenly the whole house seemed to explode. Later, we saw an armored vehicle trying to move in the street. Our neighbor tried to get his car out of the way so the tank could move, but the British didn't wait, they just drove on even though they could see the driver in the car. The British just drove over the back of the car, while the driver ran out. It was a miracle that he wasn't killed.47
British military officials in charge of policing told Human Rights Watch five days after the incident that they had no information about this incident because it had not been reported by the troops involved.48 Human Rights Watch was told on May 13 that the Basra city authorities had contacted British military authorities for information and possible reparation for the family.
In other instances of criminality, when guns or important infrastructure were not at issue, British combat troops appeared either incapable or uninterested in providing security.
Due to the lack of reasonable alternatives (for instance, an international civilian police force), coalition forces were forced to rely on local police officers or new recruits to patrol the cities. During the first three weeks, these local forces were unarmed and had no power of arrest or investigation. By the second week of May, local police forces in al-Nasiriyya and al-'Amara were rearmed by coalition troops in response to the rising crime wave. Most Iraqis openly called for the return of their former police force, preferably armed, in order to protect them as coalition forces could not.
The residents of Basra were unanimous in their negative assessment of their former police force, which as one resident said was more concerned with enforcing the government's will than protecting the people.49 Shop owners in Basra stated that they viewed the old police as corrupt, inefficient, and brutal. Still, they explained that they preferred to have the old police back if it meant having better security.
Current British plans for policing Basra envision the return of a large number of former police officers to duty, due to the unavailability of sufficient numbers of British troops, particularly military police. Human Rights Watch research into the reconstitution of the police force in Basra raised serious concerns about the vetting process while selecting members of the new force, and about the training they would receive.
A city the size of Basra, with a population of at least 1.5 million, requires some five to six thousand police officers on the ground, with one thousand in administrative and support roles, according to Lieutenant Colonel Eddie Forster-Knight, the British officer responsible for police forces in the British zone. By mid May, some 480 members of the Royal Military Police (RMP) were available in the British zone to cover the two provinces of Basra and Misan. Of this group, one hundred were dedicated to garrison duty and 320 to street patrols. Some one hundred RMPs were on active patrols in Basra, an insufficient number for providing security to the city's population.50
British plans include a possible contingent of up to 1,500 international civilian police to help protect the city and train the new Iraqi police. As of this writing, it was not clear which country or countries would contribute this number. Even with this number, coalition forces would not have sufficient police to provide adequate security for Basra. Several British officers responsible in different capacities for providing security to Basra told Human Rights Watch of their frustration about the lack of proper planning for the rapid deployment of such a force, given the peacekeeping experience of British troops in Kosovo.
To make up the for shortfall in coalition forces, British military authorities created a six-hundred-strong force, the Auxiliary Police, comprised mostly of former police officers, along with new recruits, to patrol the streets. This force will receive new uniforms but no guns.
Another group, the Guard Service, will police sites such as banks, government buildings, and main crossroads. This service is comprised of personnel deemed unsuitable for the actual police force. At this point, the Guard Service will include some one thousand members who will be paid by the institutions and utilities they protect.
The centerpiece of the British plan is the Auxiliary Police. British Military Police have conducted joint patrols with the Auxiliary Police, and British authorities told Human Rights Watch that they had provided some basic training to this new police force, covering investigative techniques, self-defense, and the handling of suspects. The goal is, as Lt. Col. Forster-Knight put it, to create a police service serving the community instead of a police force ruling over the populace.
However, newly commissioned Iraqi police officers interviewed at random by Human Rights Watch complained about lack of training, inadequate direction, and pervasive lack of security. There was little esprit de corps or professional pride evident among the members of the new police service.
One new recruit, Ahmed H., 24 years old, told Human Rights Watch:
This cap that I am wearing is the only piece of police uniform on me [he wore a baseball cap with a "Police Basra District" insignia]. But only a few of us have got caps like this. The British promised to give us uniforms. I did not serve in the police before the war. I was a soldier, a tank driver. I have to support my big family, which is why I decided to go to the police. When I came to the British a week ago they did not even ask me for my ID or passport. I just told them my name. The British did not give me any training. They told us though that the training will be conducted in ten days. My training is my daily experience. There are more new people in the police than those who served in the old police. I have not received my salary yet so I do not know how much it is. The British never told me that. But they say that we all will sign formal contracts. It is very difficult for us to stop the crime wave because we do not have weapons. There is no security at all in the town. Some of us, like me, came from the army, some are former policemen, some were civilians.51
Other police officers were careerists from the old force. Kazim, a 27-year veteran of the former police force, said:
On April 19, I went to the former police station, where the British were, and volunteered to work with them. I told them that I want to serve my country. They said that they want me to work with them but in civilian clothes. The British did not want to see any of my certificates or documents. They did not give us any training. There are many former policemen who serve in the new police. We also have new people, young ones, who did not serve in the old police. They did not receive any training either. But the British promised to train us all. Sometimes they want us to serve as security guards at gas station and to keep order there. We do not have the authority to arrest someone. We report to the British, they come and arrest suspects and deliver them to the police. We do not do any kind of investigations. Sometimes we try not only to report about crimes, but to prevent them or try to arrest the suspect even if we do not have guns. Everyday we detain many people, suspected in looting or other crimes. We work in three shifts. The safety of the people is lower now than before because we do not carry guns, but the British promised to allow us to have guns and wear uniforms.52
Until the middle of May, British forces were unclear about how extensive future training would be, or how they would be paid for. They were also unclear about how other cities in the U.S.-controlled areas were reconstituting or training their police forces.
U.S. officials in al-Nasiriyya told Human Rights Watch they had not received any directives about how to restructure the city's police force. Instead, the Marines who first occupied the city have been forced to improvise, drawing on the experiences of a number of reservists who serve as police officers or lawyers in their civilian lives. Major Dan Schutta, a Marine reservist who serves as a police officer in New York City, is helping lead the creation of a new Iraqi police force in al-Nasiriyya.
We're trying to teach them about investigation, rules of engagement, the force continuum-we've had a few sessions where we've been able to work with them on this. And the best training for them is to have us patrol with them. But they're still a far distance from being able to run a real police force. We've rearmed them with AK-47s so that they can be more effective, but for now their real fear is of carrying guns and being accidentally shot by Marines, so they're not too eager to carry their guns. Which greatly decreases their effectiveness as a police force.53
The reconstitution of police forces in Iraq raised concerns among the populace that the same individuals responsible for enforcing the abusive rule of the previous government would return to positions of power under the cover of the coalition forces. In order to prevent such an outcome, it is essential to vet the police and judicial personnel to keep out individuals who are inappropriate due to corruption, human rights violations, or war crimes. Some British and U.S. officials in southern Iraq spoke of using coalition military intelligence sources as a first level of vetting, followed by reliance on information gathered from locals. Others stated that coalition military intelligence did not seem to provide much help when dealing with lower or middle level personnel.
Human Rights Watch found that use of local sources, potentially a useful method of prohibiting the return of abusive personnel, has not been implemented effectively. There is still no systematic public mechanism in place now for the local population to learn the identities of new law enforcement personnel, or to comment on such personnel let alone to do so without fear of reprisal or persecution. As a result, it is possible-indeed, likely-that many of the same people who were involved in the repression of the Iraqi people will resume new positions of authority. Most Iraqis seemed to welcome such an outcome, if it improved their security in the short term.
Penal System and Prisons
According to British officials in the British-controlled governorates of Basra and Misan, those arrested for committing violent crimes are investigated by British legal officers, and if reasonable grounds for detention are found, are sent to a facility within the Umm Qasr prisoner of war camp. There, according to British forces, the detainees are supposed to be kept apart from the prisoners of war, subject to a twenty-one-day detention followed by a legal review of their status pursuant to British legal standards. The first cases of criminals arrested after British occupation came up for review in mid-May, and Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm the operation of this system.
To add to the general confusion and lack of coordination, British and U.S. forces in southern Iraq are not using the same legal process for detaining people. In al-Nasiriyya, the only major southern Iraqi city held by U.S. forces, violent criminal acts involving firearms are classified as having a "military dimension," that is, as acts possibly involving hostile enemy forces.55 Based on this reasoning, those suspected of violent criminal acts are treated as prisoners of war and processed as such. U.S. troops in al-Nasiriyya simply accept that they do not have the capacity to investigate or incarcerate criminals at the moment, except for a handful of small holding cells in the old police station, used to hold petty criminals overnight. Human Rights Watch spoke with four men who were released from overnight custody in al-Nasiriyya, followed by a public scolding by a Marine officer whose admonishments were being translated for the men's benefit. None admitted to any wrongdoing, claiming that they had been arrested because they had been at the wrong place at the wrong time. None reported any mistreatment by U.S. forces. However, at least two intimated that they had been arrested before and released after a day.56 U.S. forces had not received any indications from ORHA or other superiors about how or when the prison system in al-Nasiriyya would be rebuilt. Coalition forces throughout the south told Human Rights Watch that they were unclear about how to proceed with their efforts to provide security.
In Basra, British authorities have begun contacting private companies to assess existing prison facilities for refurbishment, or possibly construct new prisons altogether. In the interim, British forces are scrambling to create makeshift facilities that can be used to hold suspected criminals. British forces told Human Rights Watch that they expected the British Department for International Development (the British equivalent to the U.S. Agency for International Development) to pay for some initial assessments and possible construction, but that it remained unclear who will pay for the construction or refurbishment of prisons, or for the training of personnel necessary to administer such prisons effectively and in conformity with international standards.
In the absence of functioning local courts, coalition forces hold the responsibility for providing basic legal services. Occupying powers are also obligated to observe international standards of due process.59 Satisfying these obligations in Iraq requires immense commitment of resources and staff from coalition forces-a commitment absent until now.
Experience from operations in Kosovo and East Timor suggest that international legal personnel should be on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the conflict to provide basic legal services in the absence of local courts. As local personnel assume more authority, international advisors are necessary to help this transition. Although senior British officers operating in southern Iraq had direct experience with this process, mainly from previous work in Kosovo, they told Human Rights Watch that no such preparations had been made for British forces in Iraq.60 For now, British military judicial staff handle all routine and serious criminal cases in Basra and al-'Amara. It remains unclear how and when a proper legal system will be implemented in Iraq.61
Across southern Iraq, courthouses were looted and documents and files were destroyed. The Iraqi judicial system was highly compromised through its control by the Ba'th Party under Saddam Hussein's government. British forces in Basra and al-'Amara were working with local judges and bar associations to identify personnel who could acceptably administer basic legal services, but Human Rights Watch did not learn of any systematic efforts to retrain these judges. As one British officer, requesting anonymity, explained to Human Rights Watch:
We're waiting for Baghdad to let us know when we can turn over the courts to Iraqis. Someone has to help the local judges, who are certainly capable and well-educated, get accustomed to a new system where defendants have rights. In Kosovo, we had international experts and professors who could help with this. Now, we don't know who is going to do this or who is going to pay for it, although we're confident that once the dust settles we will have the ability to hand over the system to Iraqis.
U.S. forces in the south also lacked direction on how to rejuvenate the Iraqi legal system so as to allow basic legal and penal matters to proceed. Major Ralph Dengler, an intellectual property lawyer from New York City, was trying to return some of al-Nasiriyya's former judges to work in order to allow the criminal system to operate. "We've been able to get some basic things accomplished here, because we have a lot of Marines with police and criminal investigation backgrounds here, but we have not yet received any directives from ORHA about overall strategy. We have not been visited by anyone from ORHA yet at all," he said.62
47 Human Rights Watch interview, Basra, April 23, 2003.
48 Human Rights Watch interviews, Major Henry Cummings, Captain Chris Heron, Major Nadine Heron Basra, April 25, 2003.
49 Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. As'ad `Issa, May 17, 2003.
50 Human Rights Watch interview, Lt. Col. Eddie Forster-Knight, Basra, May 7, 2003.
51 Human Rights Watch interview, Ahmad H. [full name withheld to protect his identity], Basra, May 8, 2003.
52 Human Rights Watch interview, Kazim [full name withheld to protect his identity], Basra, May 8, 2003.
53 Human Rights Watch interview, Maj. Dan Schutta, al-Nasiriyya, May 9, 2003.
54 Human Rights Watch interview, Lt. Col. Nick Mercer, legal advisor to the 7th Armored Brigade, Basra, April 25, 2003.
55 Human Rights Watch interview, Maj. Dan Schutta, al-Nasiriyya, May 8, 2003.
56 Human Rights Watch interviews, names withheld upon request, al-Nasiriyya, May 8, 2003.
57 Fourth Geneva Convention, art. 64.
58 Human Rights Watch interview, Lt. Col. Nicolas Mercer, Basra, May 26, 2003.
59 Fourth Geneva Convention, arts. 65-77.
60 Several senior British officers requested Human Rights Watch not use their names or ranks when discussing this issue.
61 British forces in Basra told Human Rights Watch they planned to return some authority to the local judicial system by June 6.
62 Human Rights Watch interview, Maj. Ralph Dengler, Al-Nasiriyya, May 9, 2003.