Iraq faces worrisome drug problem

Sunday 11/09/2016
A 2013 file photo shows seized drugs being incinerated by Iraqi Kurdish security forces in the Iraqi northern city of Erbil.

Baghdad - Before the US-led invasion in 2003, the United Na­tions and Interpol said Iraq was completely clean of drugs but warned that the country could become a con­suming market as it had quickly developed into a transit point on a drug-trafficking route to major pro­ducer Afghanistan.
By 2016, addiction and consump­tion have become worrisome with increased domestic crime, especial­ly by teenagers seeking to finance their habit.
Recently, one of a series of crimes that rattled Baghdad involved a male teenager who killed his father for money to buy cocaine. A female university senior was arrested in a brothel where she had sex for mon­ey to buy a local brand of heroin called “Crystal”.
Prior to 2003, it was believed that no narcotics of any kind could be found in Iraq, despite its proximity to Iran, a large consumer market, and its location between Afghani­stan and the West. Under dictator Saddam Hussein, drug traffickers and consumers were sentenced to death.
Gradually after the invasion, Iraq became a passageway for drugs bound for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries as well as Europe. A fraction ended up in the local mar­ket to satisfy demand mostly by for­eigners.
In August 2003, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said af­ter a two-week fact-finding mission about organised crime and traffick­ing in narcotics that drugs were “not yet a real problem” in Iraq.
However, UNODC warned that a “strong possibility of an increased drug trafficking exists”. Again, UN­ODC based its prediction on Iraq ly­ing along a major drug route from Afghanistan.
The UN agency recommended that the “criminal justice system requires substantial reforms to re­spond effectively to the challenges of organised crime and drug traffick­ing”.
Iraqi Judge Kadhim al Zaidy said in recent research that combating drug trafficking required a special force, similar to the anti-terrorism squads, as a first and immediate step and that the force should be deployed to all borders and airports.
Lawyer Amjad Hussein said drug penalties should be harsher. He specifically referred to a 1994 drug law, modified in 1996, that states that dealing with certain pills and medicines either through trafficking or selling by a pharmacist without a doctor’s prescription is a crime.
“Laws pertaining to combating drugs do not suit the present time,” Hussein said. “They were more se­vere in the ‘60s of the last century”.
Almost every week, there are re­ports of drugs trafficking and drug victims.
Ban, the 22-year-old female col­lege student, was caught in a brothel in Baghdad recently. She was quot­ed as saying that her addicted boy­friend lured her to try drugs. When she became addicted, he forced her to work in the brothel to make mon­ey to buy Crystal.
In Baghdad’s Bataween district, known as a hub for drug and sex traf­ficking, young Iraqi widow Ahlam said her monthly use of a specific brand of local pills is estimated at 50,000 Iraqi dinars — about $400.
“I became addicted to these pills since my husband was killed dur­ing the sectarian war,” ten years ago. She said she started out as a prosti­tute, “going with five or more men each night, to make enough money to buy the drugs”.
According to Abdul Ridha Ali, a social worker in an Iraqi court, the majority of the addicted people in Iraq are from “fragmented and poor families, which are jobless and also street children”.
Nadhim, a young Iraqi father, be­came addicted to Crystal, the most expensive drug and harmful on the neurological system. He is from a wealthy background. “I couldn’t flee the turmoil in Iraq and I couldn’t bear to live without drugs,” he add­ed.
“As a result of my addiction, I started losing everything: my wife and two kids,” he said. He said his father told him he was ready to help him out “provided that I quit imme­diately”.
“There’s an insufficient number of rehab centres in Iraq,” he added.
There are no statistics for the number of drug consumers or deal­ers in Iraq but UNODC insists that Iraq has become a “vital” destina­tion for drug trafficking in the area.
A police officer, speaking on con­dition of anonymity said drugs sud­denly poured into Iraq’s streets after April 2003, because of the insecu­rity, chaos and corruption. He said while tens of drug storehouses are shut down, farms planting marijua­na are destroyed and raids on deal­ers and consumers continue.
Hanan Ali, a children rights activ­ist, said the Iraqi authorities do not admit the problems; “therefore, solutions have become hard to find and apply”.
“Addiction among street children jumped 75% since 2003 and even those children have become tools in the hands of street gangsters to sell and distribute drugs,” Ali added.