TOPICS > Nation

Search for Security in Iraq

May 14, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We joined a patrol from a company of the 1st battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s regiment of the British army. The place was al Zubayr, a poor, dusty suburb of Basra in southern Iraq. Twelve soldiers, spaced about ten yards apart, and usually on opposite sides of an ally or street, walk through town late in the afternoon.

CPL. IAN PERKINS, British Army: This is a joining of the streets. Because of their rooftops, you know, they get a lot of threat. Hence, the reason why the other fire team has gone secure so that we can push through them. So we’ve always got one foot on the ground, if you like.


CHILD: Hello, good mister.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: An American soldier from a unit assigned to the British regiment accompanied the patrol. People were in the streets as the day cooled off. They were fairly friendly, but we attracted some sour looks, too. Fighting for stolen money brought a swift response.

SOLDIER #1: Sit down, sit down. Sit down! Sit down, sit down. Sit down!

SOLDIER #1: Put your arms over your head!

SOLDIER #1: Right, sit there.

SOLDIER #2: Stealing money. Request R.M.P. In our location, over.

SOLDIER #1: Enough! Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!

SOLDIER: It’s this lad’s money? Why have you got so much money?

CHILD: To buy a bicycle.

CHILD: I said to buy a bicycle.

TRANSLATOR: For this war…

SOLDIER #1: You must be careful with your money, yeah.

CHILD: Yeah.

SOLDIER #1: Okay, put it in your pocket.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The children of al Zubayr have little to do, and they mob the troops when they patrol. Toward the end of the day, we went into the courtyard of the local hospital, which had posted guards as the old government fell and avoided getting looted.

The British soldiers have trained some local police, who stand guard at night to prevent more looting now. Near the base, the soldiers broke into a run. They’re vulnerable close to home, because an assailant would know that’s where they can be found.

SOLDIER: Okay, well…

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And it was only later that we realized our cameraman’s backpack, which a soldier had carried on the patrol, had been pick-pocketed. The wad of money returned to the young boy, about $30 worth of Iraqi dinars, may have belonged to us. It was an example on a very small scale of the general lawlessness here, the most basic issue for everyone we spoke to.

Local Iraqis said that the looting of the past month has never stopped, and that no one has been in charge since the war ended. This barbershop was one of the latest targets.

IRAQI CITIZEN: Broken, all the locks. And there’s nothing in it.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And this was yesterday?


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, thank you for telling us.

IRAQI CITIZEN: Where is the security? America should offer to us the security.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This city of 1.5 million, not far from the Iranian border, was once a great trading center. But the last two decades have taken a toll: First the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s; then an ill-fated Shiite uprising in 1991 that Saddam Hussein’s regime turned back in brutal fashion; then a decade of U.N. sanctions.

MAN ON STREET: First, I want to thank the coalition forces for getting rid of the regime. But now, the Iraqi people are eating garbage. The reason why Iraqis ended up rooting their own people is because we experienced many years of human suffering.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And this man said Basra has three main problems: Security, lack of food, and dangerously polluted drinking water. The United Nations is here in force to tackle the problems. David Wimhurst is the main spokesman for their humanitarian organization.

DAVID WIMHURST: This cycle of looting sort of moves around from one place to another, and unless that is brought under control, and it is the obligation and the responsibility of the occupying power to do that, this situation will continue, and we will see a gradual degradation of a very chronically unstable situation into something more serious.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Much of Basra’s water is unsafe because pipes were destroyed during the war, and many waterworks were sacked afterwards.

JABBAR AL-HAIDARY, Basra Region Water Director: They loot the chlorinators, also they loot the pump, the boosting pump of the chlorination here, and destroyed it.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Regional water director Jabbar al- Haidary said looters took everything they could lift right after the war. But that wasn’t enough for them. He came back here a few days ago, and found looters stealing the huge electric pumping motors right before his eyes.

JABBAR AL-HAIDARY: Because it’s very heavy.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, is your main concern that if you put in new equipment now, it will get looted, too?

JABBAR AL-HAIDARY: Yes, yes, yes. Also, I am so worried because we can’t protect it. We need the protection to restart the pumps and to make it work again.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What are the British saying, the soldiers… the officers saying when you?

JABBAR AL-HAIDARY: They said nothing because we tell them about everything. Always in the meetings with the British, the first thing we spoke about is the security. This station feeds the water for about 100,000 people in al Zubayr. All of them now, they have not any source of water.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In al Zubayr, people were drinking water from broken pipes in an open field. I asked how many people were drinking bad water — almost everyone. And they said many small children, especially babies, were sick.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: One man warned: “If they don’t fix this, we’ll turn against them.” At Basra’s children’s hospital, the number of patients admitted with diarrhea and vomiting has risen dramatically, and water is a prime suspect.

DR. ASSAD ESSA: The main cause is either virus or bacteria, and now we can’t that it is a virus or bacteria because we lack the specific investigation about this. But what we afraid now, is the cholera. We have reported cases of cholera, about nine cases in our hospital here in previous days. And it is not confirmed 100 percent that it is cholera. Cholera, it requires an official investigation, which is called cholera antisera, which is not available in all Basra.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why don’t you have the test you need to make a positive or negative diagnosis?

DR. ASSAD ESSA: The test was previously available in the preventive health building, and this building was looted and burned just after the beginning of the war.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some tests sent to Kuwait City were returned this week, and a small number of them confirmed that there is some cholera. The U.S. Agency for International Development is providing funds for the Basra health department, to purchase what’s needed to do the testing themselves.

The impact of the looting is on everyone’s minds, including religious leaders. During this sermon at a local mosque, the imam urged anyone in the room with stolen goods to return them and to seek forgiveness. We asked an American officer assigned to the British regiment here, why the troops can’t provide more order.

MAJ. TERRY McGUIRE: There are a finite number of us, and a large number of them. But compared to where we started and to where we are now, it’s a dramatic improvement over the outbreak of the operation in Basra.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And a British commander said Basra is actually more secure than it may seem.

LT. COL. MIKE RIDDELL-WEBSTER: This is mostly an issue of confidence. These are people who have suffered 30 years of oppression, and suddenly, there aren’t huge police forces on the streets, suddenly there are able to do what they want. And equally, they don’t have someone telling them what to do the whole time. And I think they find all of that slightly uncomfortable. It’s getting better. You are not going to solve this in a month, but, you know, we’re on the way there.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: People have begun to go out again, and the market area is busy. Money is changing hands. Looters ply their wares without shame. British troops move through the streets in a show of strength. Many children have returned to schools, about half of which have reopened. In this classroom, the children were singing a patriotic song, which ended with praise for Saddam Hussein.

SPOKESMAN: One classroom, kids, one school.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The British are helping distribute a newspaper printed in London and Bahrain, and people crowd into lines to get a copy.

Some of the people in this line said they couldn’t read, and it was likely they were taking the newspapers to sell. But these small improvements in people’s lives can’t mask the harsh realities of life in this place now. Modest graves are scattered throughout the city, and many people mourn family members killed in the war.

Some homes were destroyed. In this one, a man lost his wife, two daughters, an uncle and his children. Neighbors said armed looters roam their street at night. It will be some time before life returns to normal in Basra.