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Iraq\'s drug problem

Muhammed Abdullah
A small-scale trade in all sorts of illegal drugs has spread in the narrow alleys and abandoned mechanics' shops all over the city. Boys, their addictions clearly visible on their faces, stand on street corners…
20.11.2007  |  Baghdad

Certain sources attribute the spread of this dangerous phenomenon across Iraqi society to the power vacuum, and the absence of drug-fighting organizations and strong exports control, which is compounded by a lack of control over the border. However, newspaper reports also claim that the presence of foreign troops in the country is the main reason for the spread of drugs, despite explicit US military laws forbidding drug use. Many articles point the finger of blame towards the coalition troops and at the mercenaries working for private companies (80,000 mercenaries working for 350 private security companies, 35 of which are American and European), after the Times of London published a report accusing nine British soldiers of smuggling drugs into Iraq.

While the Iraqi Health Ministry has announced that it has no official records of the numbers of addicts, organizations dealing with the issue have stated that there are 7,096 cases in Basra alone. A health ministry official told Niqash that the number of addicts who visited private rehabilitation clinics in Amara in the southern province of Maysan is 286, but he pointed out that unofficial estimates place the total number of addicts in the province at 5% of the total population. He added that the last official survey done in Karbala had shown 679 addicts, 4 of whom had died of overdoses. The source attributes the high number of addicts in Karbala to "the large amounts of narcotics brought in by pilgrims from Iran to the city's holy sites."

A trustworthy source in the Health Ministry, also speaking on the subject, said "the ineffectual implementation of the law and instability, unemployment and the easy availability of drugs, coupled with the geographical proximity of Iraq to drug-producing nations and the former regime's decision to release thousands of drug criminals from prison has led to the spread of drug use among Iraqis." In fact, houses nicknamed "makhmakha" have opened up, where all sorts of drugs are provided and used, in addition to women who prostitute themselves for $500 a night.

Opium Production in the South

The drug crisis in Iraq is being made worse by the transformation of Iraq into a prime drug-producing nation. Many peasants in the central and northern parts of the country have now turned to opium and the poppy trade to make their profits. Diwaniyya in the south, previously famous for producing amber rice, has now become the first city of drug production since its farmers have traded their traditional crop of rice for poppy, from which opium is extracted. The opium harvest is grown especially in the regions near Kifl, Shanafiyya, Shamia, and Ghumas. Diyala is a close second, its famed orange groves now making way for poppy plantations.

Iranian Traders

Until recently, drugs were unknown and generally unavailable in Iraq, due to Saddam Hussein's strict laws against narcotics and the presence of special troops along Iraq's borders with Iran, Syria, Jordan and the Gulf. However, addiction was widespread in the previous regime's prisons (and continues to be a problem today), and particularly and the high-security prisons like Abu Ghraib, where a roaring trade in pills such as Valium and other medicines, nicknamed "al-kabsala" was in place.

The first truckload of smuggled narcotics to be caught since the fall of Saddam's regime was stopped in the Bab Sharqi market in central Baghdad on 25 September 2003, after its Iranian importers had managed to pass their cargo of "tiryak" as Indian tamarind paste across the border and had smuggled 2 tons of opium to Kurdistan. The Karbala authorities have failed to end the spread of drugs during pilgrimage season, due to the fact that Iranian traders have struck deals with customs officials outside the city. It is expected that drug use will quickly spread to other Iraqi cities, particularly since the government is occupied with its crackdown on armed militias and fundamentalist groups, which has left the eastern border with Iran wide open to drug cartels and petroleum smugglers. Health Ministry sources fear that the spread of the drug trade in Iraqi society will lead to the addiction of 40% of adolescents and 20% of children at the age of ten, due to a general ignorance of social and health issues, the absence of nation-wide control and the increase in smuggling.

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