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