Basra resident Haider, 29, never thought he would be able to return to a normal life after he became addicted to methamphetamine, a potentially deadly illegal drug smuggled into Iraq from Iran.
Methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, is a highly addictive chemical compound with a white crystalline form that affects the central nervous system.
It is the most widespread illegal drug in Iraq -- most commonly used in central and southern Iraq -- with militias linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) playing a pivotal role in facilitating its smuggling into the country.
Haider underwent several months of treatment for his drug addiction at a private clinic, and it took him two years to fully recover and return to normal life, he told Al-Mashareq.
"I don't want to remember when and how I started using. It was out of curiosity and boredom, but I ultimately found myself in hell," he said.
"It was a bitter experience that almost cost me my life and hurt those around me ... I thank God that it is now a thing in my past," he said.
Haider's father, Abbas, said methamphetamine turned his son into a different person in a short period, making him ill-tempered, irritable and unfocused. He also lost a lot of weight.
"When we discovered that he was using that dangerous substance, we quickly took him to an addiction treatment facility and we all stood by him and suffered with him until he recovered."
Illegal drugs smuggled from Iran
Areas bordering Iran have become major narcotic trafficking routes for drugs, including crystal meth, hashish, heroin and opium.
The IRGC is accused of directing and supporting the smuggling operations through its militias in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
IRGC militias reap huge profits from drug trafficking, which they use to buy weapons and finance their activities, said political analyst Abdul Qader al-Nayel.
But, he said, the IRGC's most important objective is "to harm neighbouring nations, disrupt development, construction plans and youth initiatives, and spread criminal activities".
This serves to weaken the societal fabric of these countries for the benefit of Iran's expansionist policies, he told Al-Mashareq.
Crystal meth and other illegal drugs are smuggled through the borders from Iran and Syria and sold at a cheap price, al-Nayel said.
Meanwhile, drug trafficking networks affiliated with the militias turn drug users into sellers and dealers of crystal meth in exchange for getting it for free, he said.
Iran is trying to turn Iraq into "a country that consumes and manufactures various types of drugs, not only crystal meth, and that serves as a major transit point to the rest of the countries in the region", he said.
Iraqi authorities are making efforts to control the borders and regularly carry out security operations against thousands of drug dealers and traffickers.
In the most recent operation, the Iraqi National Security Service (INSS) in Basra on April 11 thwarted the entry of 20kg of crystal meth and 10kg of hashish from Iran after an exchange of fire with the smugglers.
On the same day, INSS announced that the most dangerous drug network in southern Iraq's al-Muthanna province -- a network with 15 members -- had been dismantled.
In December, Iraq burned some six tonnes of illegal drugs, including vast piles of cannabis, Captagon, crystal meth and cocaine, in what officials said was the largest destruction operation in over a decade.
In southeastern Iraq, work is under way to construct an earthen berm and trench along the border with Iran along the course of the Shatt al-Arab river.
Construction began last June on the new fortifications, which are meant to block the drug trafficking routes that smuggling networks use.
Devastating effect on society
Specialists say methamphetamine is devastating to society, as its danger spreads quickly, especially among the youth.
There are no accurate statistics on the number of crystal meth users in Iraq, which has increased since 2017 after it became a lucrative trade for smugglers, dealers and corrupt networks because of its ease of manufacture.
But the Iraqi Ministry of Interior said it arrested some 16,000 individuals accused of trafficking, dealing and using illicit narcotics including crystal meth in 2022.
Half a tonne of drugs has been seized during the same period, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, 4,500 addicts and drug users -- typically between 15 and 30 years old -- have undergone treatment since the beginning of 2022, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Health.