of the Sadrist Movement Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday warned of the spread of
drugs in a "horrific" manner, saying that most of these drugs
devastate the health and require abusers to get treated in medical and
In less than a decade, Iraq has been transformed from a transit country for illicit drugs into a consumer and manufacturer. The industry seems to be expanding as Iraqi courts handle about 30 drug-related cases daily, Asia Times reported.
Prior to the April 2003, illicit drug activity was limited in Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s regime imposed harsh penalties for both dealers and users, including the death penalty. The situation changed after the fall of the dictatorial regime.
Now, the Interior Ministry issues weekly statements about counter-narcotics operations, announcing the apprehension of traffickers and users. The endless crackdown reveals the extent of the security apparatus’ struggle with the problem.
In addition to the deterioration of social conditions resulting from increasing unemployment and poverty, several factors have led to this escalation, according to judges and Iraqi members of parliament. They are state corruption, the weakness of the security apparatus and a lack of training for its personnel, and the absence of rehabilitation centers for drug addicts.
While domestic drug use was prohibited during the Saddam years, Baghdad allowed narcotics to pass through to rival capitals for nefarious reasons.
“Saddam Hussein’s regime used drugs as a card for political pressure against some Gulf countries,” says Hakem al-Zamly, the former head of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee. Drugs coming from Iran used to be trafficked through the desert in the southwestern Iraqi province of Muthanna to neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The situation has since changed drastically. After 2003, the security apparatus collapsed, and Iraq’s borders in all directions became open for the trafficking of all kinds of drugs, to be transported to Gulf countries using different methods, some of them comical.
In mid-2017, Kuwaiti customs authorities busted a trafficking network that transported drugs to Kuwait using bags tied to the legs of homing pigeons. In December 2018, Kuwaiti authorities intercepted a drone coming from Iraq carrying pills.
Crystal methamphetamine, an addictive chemical
that damages users’ organs, is the most common drug found in Iraq. Other drugs
sold in Iraq include hashish, opium and captagon (fenethylline) pills.
Politician Hakem Al-Zamly, who worked on the drugs issue during his term in the last parliament, says he identified several flaws in the state’s counter-narcotics operations, including a lack of oversight and lenient treatment of the biggest traffickers.
“Drug dealing is expanding in Iraq to the extent that some drug dealers have relations to international drug trade mafias in South America and Eastern Europe. Iraq is on the verge of turning into a drug hub not only in the Middle East but in the world,” said Zamly, a leading member of the Sadr political movement, led by the Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr.
Zamly is not exaggerating.
Large quantities of drugs are regularly seized on Iraq’s borders. In a recent
operation, the politician recounts, half a ton of cocaine was found hidden in a
shipment of bananas from Ecuador.
“The drug dealer involved got out on bail, statements were changed, and he was acquitted in the case,” Zamly told Asia Times.
Iran is the biggest contributor to the drug problem in Iraq; Iranian producers export their drugs to the country, and Iranian intermediaries arrange for the transportation of Afghan drugs to southern Iraq, specifically the Persian Gulf port city of Basra.
“Drugs from most of these countries end up in Iraq before being smuggled to Gulf countries and Turkey, and from there it finds its way to regional and world markets,” Zamly said.