Pubdate: Sun, 04 Sep 2005
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2005
Author: Aqeel Hussein ,in Baghdad and Colin Freeman
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Fears that lawless post-war Iraq is becoming a haven for international
drug trafficking have escalated after the country's biggest ever
seizure of heroin.

Officers posing as would-be buyers found 20kg of the drug hidden in a
car on Monday, the latest in a string of increasingly large seizures
in the past year.

The Afghan-produced heroin comes in via Iraq's porous border with
Iran, creating what United Nations officials say is an important new
drug route to Europe and Britain.

During Saddam Hussein's rule, heroin was virtually unknown in Iraq
because of his police-state law enforcement, which imposed the death
penalty even for possession.

Since his fall, however, the lawless environment has offered the
perfect conditions for smuggling, promising a lucrative income for
terrorists and other criminals.

It has also landed Iraqis with the problem of drug addiction to add to
their existing woes of car bombs, kidnappings and a lack of jobs.

Monday's seizure took place in the Shia holy city of Kerbala, 100
miles south of Baghdad, where the regular pilgrimages of Shias from
Iran give smugglers easy cover.

Major Mehdi Saleh, the head of Kerbala's major crimes unit, told The Sunday
Telegraph: "We arrested three Iraqis with 20kg of heroin and 40kg of
hashish. Half of the drugs were hidden inside the car's body in a
professional manner.

"This is our biggest seizure but it's not the first. We have carried
out at least 30 operations like this in the past year."

The seizure followed warnings from UN officials in May that Afghan
traffickers were allying with insurgents to turn Iraq into a leading
drugs transit area between Asia and Europe.

"Whether it is due to war or disaster, weakening of border controls
and security infrastructure make countries into convenient logistic
and transit points, not only for international terrorists and
militants but also for drug traffickers," said Hamid Ghodse, the
president of the International Narcotics Control Board.

Iraq's new government is training its fledgling police force in
drug-fighting measures, but says drugs will be given little priority
as long as the fight against insurgents is raging.

Ra'ad Mehdi Abdul Saad, of the interior ministry's new drugs office,
said: "It happens because we have a weak security system and the
border is not protected by the Iraqi forces. For the past year I have
been asking for sniffer dogs at the borders but there is no response."

Heroin is increasingly popular among Iraqis driven to blot out the
numerous woes of everyday life. Figures compiled by Iraq's health
ministry last year estimated that Kerbala alone had almost 1,000
addicts. British-controlled Amara, a smaller city of 300,000 near the
Iranian border, had 500.

"We don't have updated figures yet, but we would say that in the past
year those figures have probably doubled," said Sarwan Kamel Ali, the
head of the health ministry's new anti-drugs programme.

"In the old days people would take pharmaceutical drugs. Now they take
ones like heroin as well."

Addiction is worst among Iraq's Shia communities, who tend to be poor
and whose religious faith strictly forbids other stimulants such as
alcohol. Among those receiving treatment for addiction at a Baghdad
clinic is Saba Alamy, 17, a student from the Shia slum of Sadr City.

"My friends and I were introduced to drugs by a man we met in Sadr
City from Amarah," he said. "At first I didn't want that, but he told
me: 'If you have this drug you will forget all your suffering.' Now my
family have a new problem and new suffering, because of me."

Iraqis are not short of conspiracy theories about the problem. Many
suspect heroin is deliberately being sent across the border by Iran,
which itself has about two million heroin addicts. Relations between
the two historical enemies are already tense because of claims that
Iran has been funding insurgents.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin