Dhi Qar, Asharq Al-Awsat – In the border region that is shared between Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – and which is known locally as the desert’s devil triangle, due to the large number of drug smugglers that utilize this region – a group of drug smugglers have congregated at a Bedouin rest-stop. Amongst this group of drug smugglers who know the hidden passageways of the Sahara desert is a man in his fifties with a long history of drug trafficking. After a number of attempts, this man agreed to speak with Asharq Al-Awsat about the secrets of his illegal trade which has witnessed significant growth following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, particularly in the southern regions of Iraq.
This drug smuggler, who only revealed his initials “Z.G.” to Asharq Al-Awsat, said that this illegal trade “was previously very popular, particularly thanks to the support we received in exporting drugs from central Asia to the Middle East, as prior to the US invasion [of Iraq] in March 2003, the Iraqi government was happy to overlook us, as there was no market [for drugs] in Iraq, and we would rather smuggle drugs to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, where there was a much larger market.”
However Z.G. added that “in the current period, particularly following the security chaos that Iraq experienced between 2004 and 2008, and the increase in unemployment, and the social disharmony in southern Iraq, there is a market for drugs internally. He said that “where previously Iraq was akin to a crossing point for these drugs, it has today fallen victim to them” adding that “nobody who worked in this trade [drug smuggling] ever expected that this poison would one day be sold in the cities of southern Iraq.”
Z.G. told Asharq Al-Awsat “at the current time, smuggling to neighboring countries is a losing proposition due to the increase in the presence of the security forces in the border regions, and there is now a domestic market for drugs.”
As for the price of drugs in Iraq, Z.G. revealed that “a kilo of hashish can be sold in the city of Nasiriyah for 1,300,000 Iraqi Dinars or an equivalent of $11,000, whilst a [single] joint of hashish goes for around $1.50, which is a price that is more in line with the [financial capabilities] of the youth in southern Iraq.”
As for how drugs are smuggled into Iraq, Z.G. revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “I cannot reveal my secrets, however there are older [drug smuggling] methods, for example we would smuggle drugs in coffins or in women’s clothing, and in the south it was known that the people of certain regions respect the bodies of the dead, and the modesty of women, and so drugs would be smuggled in this way without fear of being discovered by the checkpoints that exist in southern Iraq. There are other ways [of smuggling drugs] that resemble the way that arms are smuggled into Iraq by certain armed groups.”
According to Dhi Qar officials, this province, and its capital Nasiriyah, are suffering greatly from this dangerous phenomenon [of drug smuggling]. Dhi Qar Police Chief Major General Sabah al-Fatlawi said that “the security services and the province’s police’s narcotics department are continuing to confront this phenomenon in all regions, and over the past 7 years we have arrested 200 drug addicts and drug users in different regions, and prosecuted a number of drug traffickers, who received penalties ranging from one month to 25 years imprisonment.”
For his part, Dr. Ahmed Hassan Hussein, a psychologist at the Al Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriyah, called for local government in Dhi Qar governorate and the governorate’s council to establish hospitals that specialize in treating drug addiction, during a symposium that took place recently in the city recently. Dr. Hussein said that “the cases of drug addiction cannot be treated easily in normal hospitals” adding that the successful treatment of drug addiction takes place in two stages and requires specialist hospitals that specialize in treating such diseases.
Dr. Hussein said that normal medical clinics can deal with between 20 and 25 addicts, and there is a great shortage of information about drug addiction and the number of Iraqis suffering from this phenomenon. He said that the medical community in Iraq relies upon secondary and inaccurate information because drug abuse remains a social stigma in Iraqi society.