Tuesday, March 28, 2006

IRAQ: Officials note rise in drug trafficking, consumption

Reuters Alternet

Baghdad, 27 March (IRIN) - Officials at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs are concerned about a noticeable increase in drug trafficking and drug addiction, especially following the seizure of large quantities of "class A" narcotics by police.

"We estimate that more than 5,000 Iraqis are consuming drugs in the south today, especially heroin, compared with 2004, when there were only around 1,500," said Dr Kamel Ali, a senior official in the health ministry's anti-narcotics programme. "We fear the number could be as high as 10,000 countrywide."

According to Sinan Youssef, a senior official in the social affairs ministry's strategy department, addictions are mainly to heroin, cocaine and marijuana. Local prices for these illicit commodities vary from US $15 to $30 per gram of heroin, and from $10 to $25 per gram of cocaine.

In the past three months, Youssef explained, more than 40 cases of addiction were reported in the capital, Baghdad, and about 50 others in the south of the country. "Kerbala and Najaf are the biggest consumers of drugs," he said.

"We believe the drugs [heroine/marijuana] are brought into the country by visitors from Iran and Afghanistan every month." The cocaine is believed to be coming from South America, officials added.

Local police have carried out more than 50 raids in Kerbala, some 110km south of Baghdad, since September, in search of drugs and traffickers.

According to Maj Salah Hassan of Kerbala's crime unit, more than 100 kilos of heroin, 40 kilos of cocaine and 160 kilos of marijuana have been found by local police in Kerbala and in Najaf. "We're very concerned that the situation is getting worse, and the seizures on the borders are increasing," said Hassan.

"We arrested more than 20 Iraqis carrying drugs since last year and we're proceeding with careful investigations to discover the source," Hassan added. "Urgent action should be taken by the Ministry of Interior to prevent more drugs from entering Iraq."

Based on investigations in Kerbala and Baghdad, drugs are coming in from Afghanistan through Iran, creating what local officials are calling a major new drug route to neighbouring countries and Europe. Afghanistan is said to supply almost 90 percent of the world's opium, from which heroine is derived.

According to Youssef, the main reasons for increased rates of addiction among Iraqis are insecurity, lack of employment and terrorism, which has affected people psychologically.

Ali noted that the lack of specialised centres for the treatment of drug addiction also represented a problem for Iraqis. "The number of addicts is increasing, particularly among young people from conservative families, where there are more religious restrictions," he said. "This makes them look for another way to forget about the pressure that the society puts on them."


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