Pubdate: Mon, 05 Sep 2005
Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Copyright: 2005 The Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Aqeel Hussein, in Baghdad and Colin Freeman, in London
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Fears that lawless postwar Iraq is becoming a haven for international
drug trafficking have escalated after the country's biggest seizure of

Officers posing as would-be buyers have found 20 kilograms of the drug
hidden in a car, 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.

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 the lawless environment has offered the perfect
conditions for smuggling, promising a lucrative income for terrorists
and criminals.

Some Iraqis can now add drug addiction to their existing woes of car
bombs, kidnappings and a lack of jobs.

The 20-kilogram seizure took place in the Shiite holy city of Kerbala,
160 kilometres south of Baghdad, where the regular Shiite pilgrimages
from Iran give smugglers easy cover.

"We arrested three Iraqis with 20 kilograms of heroin and 40 kilograms
of hashish. Half of the drugs were hidden inside the car's body in a
professional manner," said Major Mehdi Saleh, head of Kerbala's main
crimes unit.

"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 continues.

Raad 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, and figures compiled by
Iraq's Health Ministry last year estimated that Kerbala alone had
almost 1000 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 program.

Addiction is worst among Iraq's Shiites, who tend to be poor and whose
religious faith strictly forbids other stimulants such as alcohol.

" Saddam's chief lawyer has dismissed as "invalid" statements from the
Iraqi Government that the former president's trial will begin on
October 19, and says he needs "years" just to read the 36 tonnes of
filed evidence.

"The defence team has not been informed about the decision and has not
signed it. It is invalid," Khalil Dulaimi said, adding that he did not
recognise the legitimacy of the special tribunal set up to try Saddam
and his aides.

Telegraph, London; Reuters
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin