Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Consulate Basrah does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BASRAH AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s Iraq-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
The security situation in Iraq remains fluid in light of the ongoing ISIS insurgency afflicting the central and northern regions and the growing influence of militia, many of which oppose official U.S. presence in Iraq. As of January 2017, ISIS insurgents control territory in northern and central Iraq and carry out effective attacks that cause casualties, hinder free movement, and influence public opinion regarding safety and security. This has had a direct impact on the crime situation in Basrah.
Since late 2014, security forces in southern Iraq have been redeployed northward to combat ISIS, leaving a security vacuum that has been exploited by criminal gangs. In late 2014, an Iraqi military division of about 8,000 soldiers, along with a police battalion of approximately 500 police officers, were redeployed from this consular district to fight against ISIS forces in the north. This left nine incomplete police battalions and one army battalion for the entire province of Basrah which has a population of around three million. Political infighting among government authorities and the growing influence of Shia militias have also contributed to the lack of security in Basrah.
In an interview with local media in December 2016, Basrah Provincial Council Member Ahmed al-Sulaiti stated that he believed that armed conflict, caused by tribal groups and political tensions, is a key challenge facing the Iraqi government. Iraqi Security Forces struggle to maintain security in the city and province in the face of armed groups competing for resources. His greatest concern was that the growth of tribal fighting and armed groups could turn Basrah into a hotbed of armed conflict that could extend to other Iraqi regions.
In a media report in December 2016, Basrah Member of Parliament (MP) Salem Shawki called on the Iraqi judiciary to take action against those who try to target the province, warning that Iraq's economy suffers due to the lack of security in Basrah. That month, tensions emerged over the position of the Basrah Chief of Police with the leader of the Basrah Badr bloc accusing Prime Minister Abadi and the Ministry of Interior of trying to replace security leaders in Basrah, specifically Police Chief, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim al-Mayahi (affiliated with the Badr bloc), for political reasons.
Travelers to Iraq should utilize all available security practices to minimize any potential terrorist or criminal risks. Individuals or companies operating or contemplating operations in Iraq should exercise care and appropriate due-diligence in planning for all potential day-to-day life support and security logistics as well as emergency contingencies when considering travel or work within Iraq. U.S. citizens who choose to visit or reside in Iraq despite the official Travel Warning are urged to take responsibility for their own personal security and belongings (including their U.S. passports).
With the 2014 re-tasking of Iraqi Security Forces from Basrah to address the ISIS insurgency elsewhere, criminal activity, especially kidnapping for ransom and violence has increased in the southern region of Iraq. The lack of law enforcement and security force presence has also been blamed for the dramatic rise in theft, armed robberies, kidnappings, murder, and drug trafficking. This trend continued in 2016. Crime statistics/reporting mechanisms in Iraq are incomplete and inconsistent. Nonetheless, the end of 2016 saw a series of statements by public officials and media reports pointing to the ongoing insecurity in Basrah province and to the potential for increased challenges to public order.
There have been significant increases in robberies targeting businesses, especially high-value targets (jewelry stores, currency exchanges). In 2016, gold and gold jewelry stores were particularly hit hard by criminals. As reported in 2015, there have also been several high-profile robberies of company and organization payrolls, including schools in 2016. This increase reflects the adverse impact of low oil prices and the costly war against ISIS on the local economy.
Vehicle theft is a common crime, and police ability to investigate and recover stolen vehicles is limited. In November 2016, local authorities reported that vehicle theft was at an all-time high throughout the province. According to the report, pick-up trucks and Dodge Chargers are targeted the most.
A wave of attacks (July-August 2016) targeted casinos and cafes in Basrah. Most of the attacks involved the use of small-yield improvised explosive devices (IEDs, sound bombs). Many of these attacks appear to have been launched by religious extremists threatening action against businesses allegedly involved in illicit activity (gambling, alcohol, prostitution).
- One of the more dramatic attacks took place on July 31 when three unidentified gunmen targeted the floating casino, “Basrah Bride,” at approximately 0300hrs with a device, reportedly containing C-4. The casino was on the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, almost directly behind the Basrah International Hotel. The casino sank, and one casino employee was killed.
- RSO Basrah, through open source reporting, tracked at least two attacks on casinos and six cafe bombings between July and September.
These IEDs are also used as an intimidation tactic. These devices normally result in minor property damage and have been placed under vehicles, outside offices, and near homes. While these tactics appear intended to send a message, collateral death/injury remains a possibility.
- RSO Basrah is aware of at least one confirmed fatality from sound bombs in 2016. In December 2016, a sound bomb, placed outside of his residence door, exploded. The bomb consisted of 100g of explosive materials and ball bearings. The explosion blew the door off the hinges and killed the man inside.
Handguns and shoulder-fired weapons (typically AK-47 variants) are prevalent in Iraq. It is not uncommon for them to be used to commit crimes and settle tribal disputes. Militias and criminal gangs also use: light machine guns (RPK/RPD), general purpose machine guns (PKM), Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG-7), and heavy machine guns (DShK). Criminal elements also use explosives. Celebratory gunfire is a culturally-accepted practice, though condemned publicly by some officials and clerics. Common occasions for celebratory gunfire include: holidays, weddings, funerals, and social events. Death/injury and property damage (shattered windows and damaged roofs) is also possible.
Other Areas of Concern
Consulate personnel are required to travel with a Protective Security Detail (PSD), limiting potential criminal threats. The Consulate recommends that individuals who are required to live or travel in Iraq utilize PSDs to limit potential terrorist and criminal threats. The Consulate recommends that individuals employ security measures: avoidance of predictable patterns of behavior, variance of routes/times, and the use of Protective Security Details (PSDs) when traveling in Iraq. If PSD teams are available, they should be utilized to maximize safety. Travelers should not travel alone. If possible, use a minimum of two PSD personnel to decrease the potential for abductions. PSD personnel can also be used to render assistance in the event of an emergency.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road conditions throughout Iraq are deteriorating, consistent with sustained budget shortfalls and severe heat. Main arteries were well constructed but are not well-maintained. Main urban roads are usually constructed with asphalt, while side/rural roads are usually constructed with dirt and gravel. Unpaved roads, including in urban areas, are subject to flooding during winter rains, which can render the roads unpassable.
Vehicle security checkpoints and dense urban populations often cause significant vehicle congestion.
Public Transportation Conditions
There is no reliable public transportation system in Iraq. Buses run irregularly and frequently change routes. Poorly-maintained city transit vehicles often are involved in accidents. Long-distance buses are available but are often in poor condition and drive at unsafe speeds. Train infrastructure is largely inadequate.
The Basrah International Airport (BSR) is located adjacent to the Consulate and approximately 10 miles from the city center. U.S. government direct-hire American personnel are prohibited from using BSR. The airport security and management practices are not on par with U.S. airports. For Iraq as a whole, the U.S. Department of State Iraq Travel Warning states:
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has determined that U.S. civil aviation flying in Iraqi airspace is at risk from ongoing combat operations involving military forces (military aerial combat operations and other militarily-related activity) and militant groups. As a result, the FAA currently prohibits U.S. civil aviation from operating in or overflying Iraqi airspace with very limited exceptions. Foreign airlines operating in Iraq may cancel their operations without warning due to the security environment or other factors. Travelers should remain vigilant and reconfirm all flight schedules with their airline prior to commencing any travel. For further background information regarding FAA prohibitions on U.S. civil aviation, U.S. citizens should consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices website.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BASRAH AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Since the withdrawal of U.S. military forces began in 2009, indigenous terrorist groups have conducted attacks against targets associated with the Iraqi government, with the intention of discrediting the government. Within the southern region of Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr’s “Peace” Brigades (Saraya Salaam), Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), and Kata’ib Hizballah (KH) are considered indigenous organizations, although all receive significant monetary and logistical support from international sources. Since the withdrawal of United States Forces-Iraq (USF-I) in December 2011, Shia-based groups, AAH, KH, and the Peace Brigades have ceased mass-casualty attacks and not attacked U.S. interests; however, they continue to pursue political ambitions and are involved in Iraq’s military campaign against ISIS.
Their posture can be expected to be influenced by perceptions of mutual stake with the U.S.-led Coalition against ISIS. Iranian-backed organizations maintain the operational, organizational, and logistical capability to attack U.S. targets with little notice. The threat of kidnapping, rocket/IED attacks, and small-arms fire incidents against U.S. interests remains high and is subject to the influence of domestic, political, regional, and international developments.
Groups such as ISIS and al-Qa’ida in Iraq lack operational maneuvering space in the heavily Shia population of Basrah’s Consular District; however, they maintain the intent and capability to conduct “one-off” attacks. Foreign and indigenous terrorist groups remain capable of conducting deadly attacks nationwide including, but are not limited to, kidnapping, IEDs, Vehicle-Borne IEDs (VBIEDs), rocket/mortar attacks, complex attacks involving several mechanisms of assault, suicide vest attacks, and small arms fire. The proliferation of such attacks indicates the willingness and effectiveness of groups to use terrorism for political gain. Attacks have been directed primarily against government of Iraq facilities/security personnel and soft targets (market places, crowds of religious pilgrims, large public gatherings).
- On August 11, 2016, a VBIED exploded in Muthanna province at an Iraqi police checkpoint 120 km from Samawa. There were two reported fatalities and an unknown number of wounded. The vehicle had been attempting to make its way to Samawa when it was detected.
- On May 1, 2016, two VBIEDS killed at least 32 people and injured 75 others in Samawa. One VBIED targeted a local government building and the second exploded near a bus station when security forces and first responders arrived at the scene.
- On April 4, 2016, nearly simultaneous attacks occurred in Basrah city and the province of Dhi Qar.
- In Basrah city, a VBIED detonated, resulting in four dead and 14 injured. The VBIED exploded approximately half a mile from the Mnawi Basha Hotel, a venue frequented by Consulate personnel.
- The attack in Dhi Qar left four dead and 21 injured when an individual wearing a suicide vest targeted a gathering of Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) members in a roadside restaurant on the highway south of Nasiriyah.
- On December 16, 2015, unidentified gunmen abducted at least 27 Qatari nationals on a hunting expedition in Muthanna province. Some reports indicated members of the Qatari ruling family, including a prince, had been among those kidnapped. In 2016, the captors released all hostages.
The call for self-radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums, and on the broader social media continues to be a global concern. It is difficult to determine which message will inspire a violent extremist.
Many southern Iraqis believe the U.S. supports ISIS, furthered by media sources (including social media) affiliated with particular political parties, foreign adversaries, and some religious leaders and militia groups. Many Iraqis see U.S. actions and policy in Iraq as contributing to the breakup of Iraq along sectarian and ethnic lines. While the Consulate has not seen evidence that these opinions have resulted in violence against U.S. or Western interests in the Consular District, they do pose a challenge for U.S. and Western interests in the area.
- On December 5, 2016, the Consulate General visited Maysan province. On December 6, supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrated and protested against the visit; approximately 30 Sadrists gathered in front of the Maysan Provincial Council holding banners and denouncing the visit. They also chanted “No, No, America” and “No, No, Israel,” and accused the Maysan Provincial Council of “selling their people to the devil.” On December 7, approximately 150 Sadrists demonstrated at the same location, condemning the visit and the Consulate’s distribution of backpacks to orphans. The protestors presented children who claimed to have received backpacks and set fire to several backpacks. There was no confirmation that the children were those who participated in the Consulate event and no confirmation that the burned backpacks were those distributed by the Consul General. This was the first reported reaction of this type in five visits to the province by a U.S. Consul General from Basrah.
- On November 17, Iranian-affiliated Kata’ib Hezbollah anti-American posters were placed outside the main gate to Basrah International Airport.
Some Shia militias and Iranian backed groups publicize their dissatisfaction with U.S. government presence in Iraq but have refrained from physical resistance to official U.S. activities during the mutually-supported campaign against ISIS. However, they retain the capability to attack U.S. government personnel, and the security situation remains fluid, volatile, and potentially very dangerous. Attacks on the Consulate and U.S. government personnel in the Consular District ceased upon the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BASRAH AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Religious and political events often attract thousands of participants. Political and religious marches and rallies are a popular target for terrorist and other indigenous militant groups. During the Shia religious pilgrimages of Ashura and Arba’een, pilgrims were attacked with VBIEDs, suicide vests, and IEDs across Iraq. Religious celebrations are commonly targeted by IED and suicide vest bombers, resulting in individuals killed and wounded. Vehicular movements on highways and road networks can be restricted due to religious pilgrims blocking routes.
Public protests against corruption, poor governance, deteriorating security, and inadequate provision of public services are common. While most demonstrations are generally peaceful, in December 2016, angry protestors stormed the Oil Cultural Hall in Basrah to force a cancellation of a planned appearance by Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of the Dawa Party Nouri al-Maliki.
In surrounding provinces, protests have increased, mainly because of labor issues. Employment-related demonstrations are common throughout southern Iraq, with protestors demanding greater employment opportunities, payment of salaries, and other benefits.
Tribal violence in southern Iraq remains a concern. Political leaders identify tribal violence as a key concern for the security and stability of southern Iraq going into 2017.
Beginning in January 2016, Iraqi authorities made efforts to stem tribal violence in Basrah province. Iraqi Security Forces conducted operations to arrest those responsible for the tribal conflicts and to disarm the tribes of medium and heavy weapons. This coincided with a visit, on January 12, by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to Basrah where he announced that a strike force from Baghdad would arrive in Basrah province to impose security and stability. Prime Minister Abadi noted that ongoing fighting among tribes in Basrah was unacceptable. He further added “as we achieve victories against [ISIS], we see struggle and disputes lead to security breaches in other areas of Iraq.” A few days after the Prime Minister’s visit, the Basrah Operations Command (BaOC) announced the arrival of the Ninth Armored Brigade in Basrah province. The BaOC said this would be a sufficient force to strengthen security especially against tribal conflicts. BaOC Commander Major General Samir Abdel Karim said that the brigade arrived under orders from the General Command of the Armed Forces. BaOC developed plans to confiscate all heavy and medium size weapons from tribal clans in northern Basrah province. General Karim also pointed out that he would re-deploy police forces to Basrah, focusing on border points and entrances to the province. However, one week after the deployment, half of the deployed forces had been sent back to Baghdad.
Other media reporting has noted the issue of tribal dominance in Iraqi society and the Iraqi government’s inability to stop growing tribal influence in the country. One of the challenges is the support that some political parties provide for tribes in return for tribal support of their political interests. In addition to the well-publicized militia phenomenon of the PMF, Iraqi tribes are also a potentially potent political force with many tribes being extremely well armed to the point of potentially posing a challenge to official Iraqi security forces locally.
While inter-sectarian tensions exist in the Consular District, there has been little religiously-motivated inter-sectarian violence aside from ISIS activities. Religious minorities complain of governance, legal, and commercial grievances but have not spotlighted violent acts against their communities.
Environmental regulation is weak, and air/water quality is much worse than in the U.S.
Temperatures can range from 20 degrees Fahrenheit or colder in the winter to 130 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer.
Dust storms and heavy fog, which can reduce visibility and impede aircraft operations, occur frequently during the spring.
Personal Identity Concerns
While local and international NGOs and media report that sex-based violence is prevalent in southern Iraq, reliable data/statistics are unavailable, and overall police reporting is inaccurate. Since the end of the Saddam Hussein regime, southern Iraq has become more socially-conservative with many restrictions placed upon the free movement and expression of women. Women cannot walk freely in some parts of Basrah without fear of harassment or assault. Most women wear conservative Islamic dress (at a minimum a head cover) in keeping with local culture and to avoid provoking a negative response. Sexual violence within the family often goes unpunished by law enforcement and is customarily addressed within the family/tribal structure.
Kidnappings for political or monetary gain are common throughout the Basrah Consular District and remain at significantly high levels. Continued threats regarding the intent to kidnap U.S. citizens, U.S. diplomats, and private contractors operating in Iraq have resulted in several Travel Warnings, last updated on January 31, 2017. The Travel Warning for Iraq warns of a generalized kidnapping threat against Westerners. However, diplomats, expatriates, and prominent locals are less likely to become victims due to the use of Protective Security Detail (PSD) teams and/or armored vehicles.
Kidnapping for ransom is common. Frequently, family members, including children, are targeted. Many of the victims are released. Kidnapping for intimidation (including to send a "political" message) is also common. RSO Basrah assesses that most kidnappings are criminal and reflect the deteriorating economic situation.
While Iraqi Security Forces maintain a presence in most major urban areas, the departure of significant numbers of southern-based Iraqi Security Forces to fight ISIS in the north has left a “security vacuum” in Basrah. Iraqi police and military units generally respond to incidents. However, the ability to respond to rapidly evolving security situations remains limited due to lack of decentralized command structures and response resources.
All foreigners operating in Iraq are subject to Iraqi law. Americans should avoid unauthorized photography, especially of Iraqi Security Forces, which is strictly prohibited. People have been detained for taking photographs of buildings, monuments, or other sites, especially in the International Zone in Baghdad, where photography is forbidden. Iraqi military personnel may confiscate equipment and temporarily detain individuals taking unauthorized photographs. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.”
The Iraqi Police and Army routinely set up temporary checkpoints without notice. Iraqi checkpoints and security stations are manned at all times. American citizens should be sure to have proper identification at all times to avoid harassment and delays at checkpoints.
American citizens should cooperate and follow instructions if approached by Iraqi security personnel.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
The Consulate’s ability to assist American citizens in the event of police detention or harassment is limited. U.S. citizens who choose to visit or reside in Iraq despite the official Travel Warning should be aware that Iraqi authorities have arrested or detained U.S. citizens whose purpose of travel is not readily apparent.
Crime Victim Assistance
Victims of crime should notify the Embassy in Baghdad by contacting the American Citizen Services Unit via e-mail or phone at 0770-443-1286 or 0760-030-4888 (from Iraq) or 011-964-770-443-1286 or 301-985-8841 ext. 4888 (from the U.S.).
Iraqi hospitals and emergency medical services are limited. Local hospitals have substandard staffing and equipment. Individuals associated with private businesses operating in Iraq are responsible for arranging their own medical care.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
A list of doctors and hospitals can be obtained by emailing the Embassy’s American Citizen Services Unit.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Iraq.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is currently no active Country Council in Basrah. Please contact OSAC’s Middle East and North Africa team or the Regional Security Office if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Basrah or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs.
U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information
Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
The U.S. Consulate General Basrah is located adjacent to the Basrah International Airport.
Consulate Contact Numbers
Consular Affairs (American Citizen Services 24-Hour Emergency Line): 0770-443-1286 or 0760-030-4888 (from Iraq) or 011-964-770-443-1286 or 301-985-8841 ext. 4888 (from the U.S.), or via email.
As cell phone service is unreliable in Iraq, emergency calls may also be placed through the Department of State at 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries.
Embassy Baghdad: https://iraq.usembassy.gov/
Consulate Erbil: https://erbil.usconsulate.gov/
The Consulate has an extremely limited ability to assist American citizens in the event of an emergency. There is a part-time Consular Officer to provide limited service to American citizens. U.S. military-provided medevac, transportation, convoy support, lodging, quick reaction force response to incidents, and monitoring of personnel security details, are not available in the Consular District.
The Consulate does not provide routine services (passport applications, notary services, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad). U.S. citizens in need of these services in Basrah must make an appointment with the Embassy in Baghdad online.
Please see the State Department's travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Specific Information for Iraq. The Travel Warning and other resources can be found on the Consular Affairs website. It is strongly recommended that all American citizen travelers enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to receive messages from the Embassy about safety and security.
U.S. Department of State Iraq Travel Warning
Iraq Country Information Sheet