Iraq Report: January 23, 2004

Instability and insecurity in Iraq has created an opening for drug traffickers, and according to Arabic news sources, much of the drugs come from Iran. Iranian smugglers reportedly are using religious tourism in the shrine cities of Karbala and Al-Najaf as a cover for their activities.

Shaykh Mithal al-Hasnawi, who heads the office of Muhammad al-Sadr in Karbala, said that his organization has created committees for the “Prohibition of Vice and Promotion of Virtue,” “Al-Hayah” reported on 28 November 2003. They have arrested male and female Iranians who possessed cocaine, heroin, hashish, and “‘al-tiriyak,’ [opium] this is a specialty used by the Iranians.” Major Nabil Hamid Mansur of the police department said that sellers of religious books sell the drugs brought in from Iran, and he added, “most of the drug dealers disguise themselves as Islamic clerics in order to foil [the] police.” A public relations official with the Karbala police added that these drug traffickers also smuggle antiquities.

Colonel Karim Hajim Sultan, the Karbala Governorate police director, said that a number of Iranians and Iraqis were arrested for drug trafficking in the previous week, Baghdad’s “Al-Nahdah” reported on 1 October 2003. He added that some Iranians entered the country illegally and are involved in the promotion of drugs and alcohol and other illicit activities. He said other Iranian visitors complained that they were swindled and stolen from, but the police arrested the boys and women who committed these crimes.

A lengthy 17 September 2003 report in Baghdad’s “Al-Sa’ah” carried several interviews with Karbala residents and police officials. A local policeman said that the porous border and the influx of visitors from neighboring states has encouraged drug traffickers, and they even sell their wares to Iraqi gangs for distribution.

A four-member United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime team that visited Iraq in August 2003 noted that drugs could become an issue. The team concluded, “Although drug trafficking is not yet viewed as a serious problem, given Iraq’s porous borders, geographical location — situated near one of the major drug routes from the smuggling of opiates from Afghanistan — and an established tradition of smuggling, a strong possibility of an increase in drug trafficking exists,” the UN Information Service reported on 27 August. (Bill Samii)

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