Iraqi security forces on Tuesday (June 13) said they had arrested a drug trafficker and seized 44,000 Captagon tablets meant for sale in the country, where consumption of the amphetamine-like drug has surged.
The same day, Jordanian forces from the eastern military region shot down a drone carrying illegal drugs as it attempted to cross into the kingdom from Syria, the Jordanian Armed Forces said in a statement.
The yellow pills seized in Iraq were packaged in bags bearing the image of a camel and inscribed with "2023", Iraq's National Security Service said.
They were captured in Ninawa province, along with the smuggler, it added.
The regional Captagon trade has exploded in recent years, and the security service emphasised the pills seized had been meant for sale inside Iraq.
Twenty other traffickers were arrested in separate raids across the country, the statement said.
In recent months, Iraq's security services have carried out major drug seizures as the country grapples with the increased trafficking and consumption of Captagon and crystal meth -- much of it flowing into the country from Iran.
Militias linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) play a pivotal role in facilitating the smuggling of crystal methamphetamine -- a highly addictive and dangerous drug that attacks the central nervous system.
Traces of the drug are sometimes found in Captagon, which is trafficked into Iraq from Syria.
Last month, Iraqi forces said they had captured 12 million benzhexol pills, a pharmaceutical drug also taken recreationally.
In March, authorities seized three million Captagon tablets at the border with Syria, a major producer of the drug which often travels via Iraq to its final destination in Gulf countries.
Once just a transit country, Iraq "for a few months" has seen increased Captagon consumption, security service spokesman Arshad al-Hakim said.
"After the main crystal meth traffickers were arrested, other traffickers started selling Captagon," he said.
"Security breaches" along Iraq and Syria's shared 600km-long border allow the drug to enter the country, Hakim added.
Joint efforts to secure that porous border were addressed by the countries' foreign ministers during a Baghdad meeting in early June.
Jordan shoots down drone
Jordanian forces on Tuesday shot down a drone as it attempted to cross into the country from Syria, the Jordanian Armed Forces said in a statement.
"An attempt to cross the border illegally from Syrian territory into Jordanian territory was spotted by the Border Guard forces and shot down inside Jordanian territory," a source from the army's General Command said.
This was done in co-operation with the Military Security Services and the Anti-Narcotics Department, the official said, adding that Jordan will continue to deal with threats on its borders "with all force and firmness".
After shooting down the drone, Jordanian forces seized 500 grams of crystal meth it was carrying, the source said.
On May 8, a major drug smuggler was killed in an air strike in Syria's Sweida province, near the border with Jordan, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Marai al-Ramthan was considered to be "the most prominent drug trafficker in the region, and the number one smuggler of drugs, including Captagon, into Jordan", the Observatory said.
He had close ties to Iran and Lebanese Hizbullah, Al-Arabiya reported.
Captagon factories linked to Hizbullah and the Syrian regime were uncovered last year in Sweida, which has become a hub for regional drug smuggling.
Syria itself has become a narco-state, with the $10 billion Captagon industry dwarfing all other exports and funding the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad.
And Jordan has become a transit route for the Captagon trade.
Drug trafficking from Syria into Jordan has become "organised", the Jordanian army said last year, with smugglers stepping up operations and using sophisticated equipment including drones.
During the first two months of 2022, the army said Jordanian forces had killed 30 smugglers and foiled attempts to smuggle 16 million Captagon pills from Syria -- surpassing the entire volume seized throughout 2021.
Obstacle to Syria normalisation
During a May 19 summit in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, the Arab League welcomed al-Assad back into the fold after more than a decade in exile.
But many obstacles litter the road to a full normalisation of ties -- with the illegal drug trade one of the key sticking points for Arab League member states.
Arab governments have been pressuring Syria to crack down on the smuggling of drugs, which is "the most difficult test for the normalisation process", Saudi military expert Mansour al-Shehri told Al-Mashareq.
The Syrian regime is heavily reliant on the illicit drug trade, with al-Assad's brother, Maher al-Assad -- who heads the regime's notorious Russia-backed 4th Division -- deeply implicated in the trafficking of Captagon.
The Syrian president is assuredly aware of the workings of the Captagon production and trafficking network, Cairo-based Syrian lawyer Taher al-Masri told Al-Mashareq.
Yet al-Assad does not take any action to stop it "because he knows that it is what is keeping him in power", he said, pointing out that the demise of the drug trade "would mean the total demise of his rule".