http://diyaruna.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_di/features/2018/11/12/feature-01?di_exp_001=true

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Society |

Iraqi border officials work to block drug smugglers

By Hassan al-Obaidi in Baghdad

A man stands next to a sign that reads "Iran-Karbala" in Farsi and Arabic at the Mehran border point between Iran and Iraq. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

Iraq has been struggling to stem the flow of illegal drugs through its border with Iran, Iraqi officials told Diyaruna, expressing frustration that Iran is not doing enough to prevent drug smuggling on its side of the border.

In recent weeks, Iraqi police have dismantled six drug smuggling networks in Baghdad and several other provinces that had brought in drugs from Iran, officials from the Iraqi Ministry of Interior's anti-narcotics unit announced.

These included drugs such as hashish and hallucinogenic pills, they said.

Through the use of advanced equipment and the training of anti-narcotics police, Iraqi forces have enhanced their ability to pursue drug smuggling networks.

But these efforts cannot be fully successful without cross-border co-operation.

"Iran is not co-operating to prevent the infiltration of drugs into Iraq," Maj. Ahmed al-Hassani of the Baghdad Police Department told Diyaruna.

"We believe that Iranian border guard personnel are being bribed and are in cahoots with the smugglers, who bring the drugs into Iraq in plain sight of the border guard in exchange for a fee," he said.

The negative impact of drug use on Iraqi society is clear, he said, pointing to the high number of criminal offenses committed by those under the influence.

Drug use also can cause youth to drop out of school, among other negative social repercussions, he said, adding that "it can be said [drugs] now pose the second most serious threat to Iraq, after ISIS".

Multiple arrests

"Six drug trafficking networks have been dismantled in Iraq in the past five weeks alone, in Baghdad, Basra, al-Nasiriya and Anbar," Capt. Saad al-Atwani of the Iraqi Ministry of Interior's anti-narcotics unit told Diyaruna.

Security forces arrested 53 men and women from the networks, he said, and "more than 450,000 narcotic pills were seized", including 180,000 hallucinogenic pills with nicknames such as "crystal", "imagination" and "eyebrow".

Also seized were at least 44 kilogrammes of hashish, cocaine and other substances that are intended for use as medication for epilepsy and as pain killers for patients who undergo major surgeries, he said.

A toll-free phone number (104) has been provided so members of the public can report gangs that traffic and sell drugs to the police, al-Atwani said.

"Hefty rewards are offered to callers whose reports lead to the arrest of traffickers and sellers of those drugs, similar to the rewards given to those report terrorist operations," he added.

"The provinces on the border with Iran are the most adversely affected by the drugs," said Laith Mohammed, the director of Diyala al-Khair, an organisation that raises awareness about the dangers of drugs and organised crime.

Diyala needs a specialised hospital to treat addiction, he told Diyaruna.

Drug use has become increasingly prevalent and now ranks as "one of the [main] causes of growing crime in various Iraqi cities", Mohammed said.

Obstacles remain

The Iraqi Border Guard has been making a "monumental effort" to stem the flow of illegal drugs, said Col. Mohamed Mohsen, head of the Moral Guidance Division of the Border Guard Command in southern Iraq's Wasit province.

"We have succeeded in striking at the smuggling networks operating between Iran and Iraq, whose members are Iraqi and Iranian nationals," he told Diyaruna.

But obstacles remain, he added, including the devaluation of the Iranian currency, "which has led to an increase in the trafficking and smuggling of contraband into Iraq by land via various routes".

The sheer length of the border also presents a huge problem, Mohsen said.

"We recently have been able to deploy helicopters in surveillance operations," he said. "But the matter requires co-operation from the Iranian side, which must control their side of the border as well."

Drug smugglers have been using women, as they are less likely to be searched, and religious pilgrims, who are held in high standing and given a measure of respect, to facilitate the entry of drugs, he said.

In one case, he added, 100,000 narcotic pills hidden in a shipment of chicken were discovered by inspectors at the border crossing.

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