Iraq’s biggest ever crackdown on illegal gambling has resulted in the arrest of an organized crime leader who reportedly controlled all gambling in Baghdad.
Last week, gun-toting members of Iranian Militias in Iraq and Syria (IMIS), a coalition of Shiite militia groups that reportedly operate with funding from Iran, swooped down on a number of Baghdad hotels in search of “mafias, roulette clubs, casinos, drug dealers and prostitution rings.”
Local media reported that the raids resulted in the arrest of Hamza al-Shammari, allegedly the godfather of Iraq’s largest criminal organization, along with around 25 of his minions. The IMIS claimed Shammari “controlled all gambling, prostitution and drug trafficking sites” in the Baghdad area.
Along with the arrested suspects, the Operation Meridian raids – named after the hotel in which Shammari was reportedly holed up – resulted in the seizure of slot machines and other gambling gear, plus some narcotics, all of which was reportedly turned over to the Iraqi national security forces.
However, other media outlets quoted a security researcher as saying that Shammari had some connections with the IMIS, and that the raids were probably launched “because he was not sharing the spoils of his misdeeds with the rest of the security services racket.”
While the IMIS is technically part of the Iraqi security apparatus, it operates with a degree of independence. The Iraqi government has yet to comment on the operation, but the IMIS claimed their raids were conducted “under the guidance of” Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi.
The Baghdad bust wasn’t the only illegal game recently rumbled in Iraq. In mid-July, police and security forces raided a building in Erbil, which is located in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, where they found “an electronic casino.”
This illegal business, which reportedly had its headquarters in Cyprus, was “linked to the internet,” and customers were given debit cards they could reload and gamble from home via their computers or phones. The local mayor said “unimaginable amounts of money were illegally sent out of Kurdistan through this casino daily.”
One doesn’t usually equate gambling with Iraq, unless one’s talking about the Baghdad Equestrian Club, which was founded by the British in 1920, shut down by Saddam Hussein, then reopened in a different location in 2003 following the ill-advised US invasion.