Pubdate: Thu, 28 Aug 2003
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2003 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Susan Milligan


Porous Borders, Lack Of Security Are Cited As Cause

BAGHDAD -- Drug trafficking and drug abuse, crimes once punishable by death 
or long imprisonment during the regime of Saddam Hussein, are infiltrating 
postwar Iraq, where porous borders and a lack of security make the crimes 
hard to control, according to Iraqi and foreign officials.

Senior officials from the United Nations drug-monitoring agency say heroin 
and cannabis have been entering Iraq through the eastern border with Iran.

Gangsters are bringing in illegal drugs from Central Asia through the 
Kurdish area in the north, and drugs are also moving into Iraq through the 
southern port of Umm Qasr, said Bernard Frahi, chief of the operations 
branch of the UN's office of drugs and crime in Vienna.

Brian Taylor, chief of the anti-trafficking section of the UN office, said 
most of the drugs were being routed through Iraq to Turkey and the Balkans 
and Western Europe. For the moment, Iraq is primarily a transit nation, but 
the availability of the drugs threatens to create drug-abuse problems in 
Iraq as well, said the two UN analysts, who briefed coalition officials 
about the problem this week.

"If Iraq is increasingly used as a transit country, it's likely there will 
be a spillover effect with local use," Taylor said. Frahi noted that in 
neighboring southern Iran, for example, a serious drug abuse problem has 
developed as a result of the trafficking of drugs through the country.

In addition, Frahi said, criminals who are now smuggling copper from 
southern Iraq may take on illegal drugs as an added commodity, adding: 
"That is quite a worrying aspect."

While local officials report few problems with abuse of heroin and cocaine 
in Iraq, doctors say they are seeing a growing problem with abuse of pills 
and inhalants, bought illegally on the street or purchased through the 
intimidation of pharmacists. Many pharmacies were looted after the war, and 
some patients with legitimate supplies of drugs sell them, said Dr. Adnan 
Aiyoubi, a doctor at a downtown clinic.

Looters stole barbiturates and other prescription drugs, including 
hallucinogenic substances, from pharmacies and clinics after the war, said 
Aiyoubi. People frequently come to his clinic trying to get drugs they 
should not be taking, he said.

Drug abuse cases have grown by 75 percent from February to July of this 
year, said Dr. Hashim H. Zainy, director of the IBN Rushd Hospital, the 
nation's biggest psychiatric facility. "I still think it's underreported," 
he said, because of the lingering fear of prosecution and the social stigma 
in a Muslim society attached to drug and alcohol abuse.

The drug problem threatens to further frustrate Iraq's transition from a 
pariah, dictatorial state to what coalition officials hope will be a 
democratic and stable nation. While doctors and police officers acknowledge 
that drug abuse and trafficking certainly occurred during Hussein's rule, 
they say it was largely contained by airtight borders and severe 
punishments for drug criminals.

With drug abuse seen as a Western affliction, there were no antidrug 
lessons in schools, and little need for drug-addiction treatment 
facilities, Zainy said.

Coalition officials, overwhelmed with the immediate need to provide water, 
electricity, and security to an increasingly impatient Iraqi populace, have 
not focused heavily on the drug trafficking or drug abuse issues, said 
Charles Heatly, senior spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in 

"It's perhaps not at the top of our list of priorities at the moment," he said.

Some Iraqis say drugs are beginning to infect their communities, and are 
exacerbating security problems. Young people are using inhalants, and the 
average age at which people start drinking alcohol has dropped from 18 to 
14 or 15, Zainy said.

Perhaps because they have been impoverished by three wars and sanctions, 
Iraqis do not yet appear to be buying expensive drugs, such as heroin and 
cocaine, he said.

Near the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad -- an area heavily guarded by US troops 
and Iraqi police -- about 20 teenagers sometimes gather to sniff glue.

"I was in a government home," said Muhammed Saleh, 15. "They took care of 
us. But when the war started, they destroyed our home." Saleh said he now 
lives on the street, begging for money and food. Other boys with Saleh -- 
some of whom were holding bags of glue, cloths for sniffing the substance, 
and pills they would not identify -- admitted to sniffing glue.

The glazed-eyed youngsters would not say where they got the substances.

A teenager who gave his name as Muhammed said he and his friends used to 
use glue and pills, "but we stopped because we went to mosque," a 
contention challenged by his stumbling walk and slurred speech.

In central Baghdad, shop-owners and residents complain that drug dealers 
take over their neighborhood after 6 p.m.

"There is no security. Everyone does what he likes. They sell [drugs] on 
the street; you can get anything you want," said Fadi Daoud, a 24-year-old 
grocer. After dark, "all the drug dealers come out, and they start 
shooting. I have to close at 2 or 3 p.m. During Saddam's regime, I stayed 
open until 1 or 2 a.m."

Iraqis, in what has become a common romanticism of the days of the Hussein 
regime, insist drugs were virtually nonexistent during that era. In fact, 
police and doctors say, drugs were available and were abused by some, but 
the threat of severe punishment kept the crime limited and underground.

Abdul Adim, 55, said he and his friends tried a marijuana cigarette in 
1965, but "we stopped it. The government was very strong. If they caught 
us, they would have hanged us."

Now, Adim said, his neighborhood is plagued by sellers of harder drugs.

Zainy told of a man who came to the hospital and demanded a drug used to 
treat Parkinson's disease. When Zainy refused him, the man threatened him 
with a knife and a grenade. US troops arrived and arrested the man, who 
returned four days later seeking the same drug, Zainy said. "Every pharmacy 
now is afraid because of the security problem," he said.

The drug trafficking problem is difficult to control because of the newly 
open borders, doctors, police, and international officials say. The 
coalition has about 6,000 to 7,000 people -- including customs and 
immigration officials -- manning the borders, and hopes to hike the number 
to 12,000 to 13,000 workers, Heatly said. "We are wrapping up our effort in 
securing Iraq's borders, he said.

Iraqi police officers say they hear complaints from residents about drug 
dealing on the street, but have been unable to rein in the problem.

"During Saddam's regime, some people used pills. Now, all the illegal drugs 
are for sale," said Wadia Atea, a police investigator at the Sa'adoun 
police station, in a neighborhood where locals complain of drug dealing. 
Recently, local police caught a group of men with illegal pills, as well as 
passports and automobile papers, he said, but police haven't been able to 
rein in the drug problem.

"Hopefully, when we establish our new government, we can have a strict law 
against drugs," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart