For decades, there has been a gap between Basra’s communities and the police forces charged with keeping them safe. In fact, a 2021 study conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Iraq revealed extremely low confidence in public institutions, with 74 per cent of Basra residents indicating they have little or no confidence in the local or provincial authorities.
The good news: community members from across Basra’s districts and neighbourhoods are hard at work to repair this.
“My name is Najla Mohammed Nassir. I am the chairperson of the Community Policing Forum (CPF) in Basra’s Maqal district,” says Najla, welcoming us into her office. She is also chairperson of the Sanad Al Basra Human Rights Organization, a civil society organisation dedicated to protecting human rights and ending human rights abuses in Basra. A Maqal native, Najla’s love for her community is clear in her commitment to improving conditions for all its residents.
Under Najla’s leadership, the Maqal CPF meets monthly to discuss and develop solutions to issues raised by community members – the most common including domestic violence, drug abuse, family disputes and electronic blackmail. “The CPF then shares these solutions with Community Police (CP) for implementation,” she explains.
“Community members feel more comfortable speaking to the CP and CPF than they do directly to police officers,” Najla tells us – and many who seek CP assistance, particularly for electronic blackmail cases, do so precisely because they don’t want to involve the police in their matter. Trust in CP is further strengthened by the fact that CP Officers are unarmed, come from the community itself and conduct extensive outreach to make themselves highly visible and approachable.
Recently, the Maqal CPF and CP joined efforts to conduct a Community Safety Initiative (CSI) on drug abuse, aimed at the district’s high schools, which serve as major targets for Basra’s drug dealers. They ran workshops for school principals and teachers on how to recognise and respond to cases of drug abuse – including by connecting cases to rehabilitation services – and distributed brochures to students to raise awareness of the issue.
As it continues to conduct outreach and implement successful CSIs, the Maqal CPF is witnessing growth in its membership, especially among the youth, who are enthusiastic about helping their community. Existing community volunteer groups are also seeking to get involved. As a result, the Maqal CPF has become an axis point for community mobilisation, action and support.
In fact, Brigadier General Tawfiq Hanoun Jassim, Director of CP in Basra Governorate, tells us that, now, community institutions – including civil society organizations, universities and others – reach out to the CP first, with requests to lead awareness sessions and activities on various issues of concern.
A moustachioed man who has been working in Community Policing since 2017, he notes that CP in Basra had its beginnings in the Asmaee area in a small office shared with the local Police. With only two rooms, five patrols and roughly 20 to 25 staff, work was limited to the centre of Basra, as they lacked the resources to cover the entire governorate.
“In 2018, support from IOM Iraq enabled us to build our own Community Policing Office (CPO) and expand our work to cover more districts,” he recalls.
Today there are three CPOs in Basra – a main office in Asmaee opened by the Government of Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, and two sub-offices built by IOM Iraq in the Ashar and Shatt al-Arab neighbourhoods. The Shatt al-Arab office also has a referral guidance centre attached to it, where at-risk individuals can receive immediate assistance from trained professionals, referrals to relevant support services, advice about filing criminal complaints and information regarding what options are available to them to seek redress. These CPOs work together with Basra’s nine active CPFs.
Together, they have been able to significantly reduce violent disputes – which was among the governorate’s major security issues – throughout Basra, collaborating with security forces to limit illegal weapons and helping to facilitate alternative dispute resolution measures.
Under Brigadier General Tawfiq’s leadership, IOM support also helped the CPO to increase its staff to around 90 personnel, allowing it to build a wider network of community partnerships and establish dedicated units for cross-cutting areas and priorities such as tribal coordination, community outreach and women’s engagement.
In Maqal, we can find a woman at the forum’s helm, as well as women lawyers and social researchers involved in its activities; young women and girls also volunteer to participate – but, Najla assures us, this is not the norm across Basra’s CP architecture, especially in more rural areas.
There is a marked shortage of women CP Officers, officers that play an important role in resolving community safety and security matters – including family and domestic violence – and who offer an access point that other women may feel more comfortable reporting their issues to and seeking redress through. Brigadier General Tawfiq underscored this as an issue of particular concern.
“We need the human resources to connect further with these communities – we especially need women,” he says. “With more on staff, we can reach more people.”
Indeed, CP actors must keep up with Basra’s growing population, for although few remain of the internally displaced persons who fled to the city because of the 2014-2017 conflict with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the past years have seen a dramatic influx of climate-induced migrants from nearby agricultural areas, fleeing water scarcity and searching for better livelihood opportunities.
Unlike the IDPs spurred by ISIL, who tended to arrive to Basra as individual or small groups of families, these climate migrants often come in large numbers – in some cases, entire tribes arrive, seeking accommodation and economic opportunity where very little of either is available. As the migrants arrive in an already fragile setting, existing social problems become magnified, making the continued implementation of a strong community engagement and policing framework all the more urgent.
“On the local level, CP needs resources to improve infrastructure,” Brigadier General Tawfiq appeals.
“We need more training and resources for CPF members,” Najla echoes. Her present ambition is to hold a festival for the Maqal community to strengthen social ties, as part of the CPF’s outreach and trust-building activities.
IOM has worked with the Government of Iraq’s Ministry of Interior and local communities since 2012 to implement Community Engagement and Policing across Iraq. IOM’s approach recognizes that human rights, rule of law and security are pivotal to development and sustainable peace. In addition to establishing new and supporting existing CPFs and CP offices, IOM trains judges, police and community members in this collaborative approach. This year, IOM Iraq held a workshop on developing a roadmap for the implementation of a gender-sensitive Community Engagement and Policing plan.
Since 2018, IOM’s CP programming in Basra has been made possible by support from the Government of Germany.