Economy

Concerned by Iran-backed militias, Iraqi officials plan to secure borders

By Hassan al-Obeidi in Baghdad

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A picture shows a crossing point between Iraq and Iran near the southern Iraqi city of Basra. [Essam al-Sudani/AFP]

Iraqi prime minister Mustafa Kadhemi has recently announced his country will take firmer control over border crossings in order to clamp down on rogue militias and their smuggling activities.

Observers and members of the Iraqi Parliament believe that if successfully implemented, this would have a significant impact on Iraq's security and economy.

Iran-backed militias are involved in smuggling various kinds of banned goods through border crossings, including weapons, narcotics and wanted individuals, while Iran syphons hard currency from the Iraqi market.

Sources say plans are in place to launch a large scale security operation to control border crossings with Iran and Syria, followed by operations on the remaining Iraqi crossings, as well as maritime ports and airports.

Border control measures 'imminent'

In a press conference in late June, Kadhemi's spokesman Ahmed Mulla Talal announced that implementing strict border control measures is imminent, and that meetings between the prime minister and relevant officials are underway.

Talal's statement was made a few days after a similar statement by Kadhemi himself, in which he said, "We incur billions of dollars in losses every year due to the presence of gangs, bandits and influential individuals at the borders, some of whom control the crossings."

"The crossings' tariff revenue belongs to Iraqis, not those with power or weapons imposing their will at the expense of the public interest," the prime minister said.

An Iraqi official in Baghdad who wished to remain anonymous told Diyaruna the issue of Iran-backed encroachment on Iraq's borders existed under former Iraqi PM Adel Abdul Mahdi.

However, today, an added problem is smuggling, he said, which is done with "the full knowledge of Iranian officials".

He said smuggled items entering Iraq from Iran include food -- some expired -- as well as drugs, wanted individuals and weapons.

According to this official, drugs, power generators and auto parts are stolen on a regular basis from Iraq and transported to Syria with the help of Iran-backed militias including Kataib Hizbullah, al-Nujaba, al-Budala and Sayed al-Shuhada.

He said it has become increasingly evident that state-subsidised medicine and power generators meant for Iraqi citizens are being stolen and end up in Iran or Syria in return for expired food, drugs or weaponry.

Militias, main threat after ISIS

Iraq has 22 land crossings with neighbouring countries, nine of which are with Iran and used for commerce and tourism.

Ahmed al-Hamdani, an expert in Iraqi politics and security affairs, told Diyaruna the administration of some of the border crossings with Iran is handed over to the militias after 6 pm every day.

There are other unofficial crossings created by the militias to make smuggling goods possible, he added.

Although the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) was defeated three years ago, border crossings have continued to burden Iraq from a security and economic standpoint, al-Hamdani said.

Iraq was supposed to gradually recover from the ISIS era with international support, he said, but unfortunately, "conditions are still bad and Iraqis are suffering".

Sheikh Mohammed al-Issawi, a prominent tribal leader in Anbar, told Diyaruna Iran-affiliated militias have become the number one threat to Iraq after the defeat of ISIS.

Controlling the border with Iran is now the key to stability in Iraq, he said.

Al-Issawi said smuggling operations, both on the Iraq-Iran border and the Iraq-Syria border, are now a profitable business that "generates millions of dollars on a daily basis for the militias and brings in foreign currency for Iran".

The Iraq-Syria border is also being used for smuggling weapons and drugs for Iran-backed militias such as Hizbullah, al-Nujaba and others, he said.

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By agreement and letting Iran know what’s happening on the border. After that, we need to carefully monitor the borders and kill all those who illegally cross them. We also need to specify the number of border crossings and close the rest, and firmly control the official ones.

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Iran doesn't want Iraq to be stable at all.

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This is because the mullahs, the grandchildren of Khosrow, and their aligned militias are controlling them publicly. However, it's about time we got rid of them, God willing.

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Their days are numbered, God willing.

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