Iraq Faces Worrisome Drug Problems

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.
Nermeen Mufti
, based in Baghdad, has been covering Iraqi affairs for three decades.
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