The story of Mohammad Kamel, 33, from Baghdad, began when he was a university student and wanted to try out some drugs. After only a few months, he had become addicted to it, and could not quit it or rid himself of the constant need for it. He fell behind in his studies, and no longer had the physical ability or the money to go to university.
At the time, Kamel turned to the person selling him the drug, and asked him to help find him a job. The person offered him the job of promoting crystal meth inside the university, in exchange for free drugs and a small amount of money. He did not hesitate. All he wanted was to take drugs, so he began selling drugs at the university to a number of male and female students. But he was caught when he tried to sell drugs to one of the students who later turned out to be a member of the security forces.
Kamel tells Raseef22, "I will live my whole life regretting what I’ve done. I lost my family, my city, and my studies. And after I got out of prison, I became homeless, with nothing to rely on," adding, "After the sins I have committed, my current ambition is to just find a job that will secure my basic needs of food and shelter."
Crystal meth and cannabis are widespread in the central and southern governorates, while Captagon is widespread in northern and western Iraq. The latest methods and techniques are used to transport and smuggle them into the country. International dealers sometimes resort to using drones to monitor the border strip, as they enter Iraq from various neighboring countries. After 2003, the number of drug users increased due to poor economic conditions, poverty, ignorance, unemployment, and lack of control over border crossings.
The prices of drugs in the capital Baghdad vary according to its regions. In al-Rusafa, for instance, their prices are much cheaper than in Karkh because it’s considered a hotspot for drug use and trade. Taxi driver Amjad Ali, 44, who lives in Sadr City (the most heavily populated with narcotics in the Baghdad governorate), believes that "the number of drug dealers has risen dramatically, especially in popular areas, and now husbands and their wives are working together to sell drugs in public."
"The man's role lies in attracting young people and distributing drugs in popular cafes and on the streets. As for the woman, her husband makes her knock on the doors of homes to convince women to buy pills," he says.
The drug network is divided into a big dealer, who is the main head and has drug-pushers who promote these drugs by luring young people and convincing them to buy their products. and more often than not, the user becomes a drug-pusher after a period of being addicted, because he wouldn't have enough money to buy more drugs to satisfy his addiction, leading the user to end up promoting drugs in exchange for both money and drugs.
The Drug Industry
Mohammad al-Khozaei, head of a parliamentary bloc in the Iraqi parliament, reveals to Raseef22 that there are drug-making laboratories affiliated with influential government agencies that are working to advance the interests of Islamist parties, since they control the border crossings and are the main gateway to the entry and exit of drugs. Hence these parties manufacture and smuggle drugs, and receive multiple types from neighboring countries.
He adds, "The entry of drugs at the beginning was limited to neighboring countries, because of their lightness and high price. But after 2003, the political parties operating under the cover of religion were able to control the joints of the Iraqi government to build networks that work on drug trade and smuggling".
The drug industry's laboratories belong to influential government agencies that are working to advance the interests of Islamist parties, since they control the border crossings and are the main gateway to the entry and exit of drugsHe points out that, "These parties have drug-making factories linked with government agencies, known and defined by many security services. But they cannot even approach them because these parties have armed militias and armies that control a group of ministries, and the government cannot simply hold them accountable since they have high-ranking positions in key joints of the government".
According to al-Khozaei, the drug laboratories, especially those for crystal meth, are neither located in the desert nor close to the border, but are rather housed inside their partisan camps in the provinces of Basra and Diwaniyah. These camps are part of fortified economic complexes that no one can enter or exit without their special approval.
Every day, H. N., 19, drives around on his motorcycle at different times. Dressed in red clothes, he carries a box of fast food while he has the drugs hidden in his bike. Anyone who sees him would think he works in the delivery service of a Baghdad restaurant. H. N. was able to deliver drugs to many users, as well as transport prohibited drugs (drugs that are only sold by prescription) from pharmacy owners to drug dealers. His mother Baida' Kamel tells Raseef22, "My son used to go out at suspicious times. When I would ask him, he'd tell me that he was going to one of his friends' houses. I don't know for how long he has been working in transporting drugs to various areas in Baghdad."
She says, "One day, I found him sleeping in late into the day. I went to clean the house and his bike without his knowledge, only to find large quantities of pills in it, which prompted me to confront and threaten him, but to no avail. He carried on his dirty work until he got his punishment and was sent to prison."
100 thousand US dollars
Article 27 of the of the Anti-Narcotics Law No. 50 of 2017, stipulates the death penalty or life imprisonment for anyone who imports, exports, produces, or plants narcotic substances or psychoactive substances with the intention of trading them. As for the crime of substance abuse and personal use, Article 32 stipulates an imprisonment for a period of not less than one year and not more than three years, and a fine of not less than five million Iraqi dinars (3,395 US dollars), and not more than ten million dinars (6,790 US dollars).
Security forces were able to arrest 6,050 people on charges of drug trafficking and possession, in addition to seizing 4 million pills and more than 250 kilograms of Captagon during the first half of 2022, according to what the Director of the Anti-Narcotics Media Office Bilal Sobhi, said while speaking to Raseef22.
For his part, al-Khozaei accuses "some of the heads of the security services working in collusion with drug dealers who work for Islamist parties because it is a trade that generates millions of dollars. Most of the senior positions in the Anti-Narcotics Directorate are sold to Islamist parties, and the price of one position reaches up to 100 thousand US dollars, since it has become a blackmail tool complicit in serving those parties".
A black nightmare
Drugs have seeped into schools and universities, and began to threaten the youth by controlling their minds. "I want medicine 1" (meaning 1 gram of drugs) is a sentence that means a lot to Hassan Jamal, 17, who ended up hospitalized in Baghdad after becoming addicted to drugs. This one sentence has wrecked his life and turned it upside down. He used to say it to a drug dealer over the phone to buy a small amount of cannabis (one of the most commonly traded drugs in Iraq).
Speaking to Raseef22, Jamal points out that "drugs are unforgiving and have no mercy on their users. They make a person become fully hooked after a short period of time that does not exceed a month, depending on the type of drug being used." He recalls his early days of drug use and says, "My friend got to me and made me start using drugs after convincing me to try this thing that made me lose my health and body."
Some of the heads of the security services work in collusion with drug dealers who work for Islamist parties because it is a trade that generates millions of dollars. Most of the senior positions in the Anti-Narcotics Directorate are sold to these partiesHe adds, "After taking drugs several times through my schoolmate, I asked him for the phone number of the dealer that was bringing us the drugs. I would then call him every day, telling him 'I want medicine 1' (which is a code word between the user and the distributor)". He then goes on to assert, "That word doesn’t refer to a medicine, but rather is a disease that makes the individual lose his mind and become mentally nonexistent and doesn't know anything. "
Iraqi state media revealed the story of a drug dealer who has managed to lure many girls through crystal meth. When they would get addicted to it, they'd become a tool in his hands. He then sells them to brothels or nightclub owners.
In this regard, university student Aya Abbas, 22, tells Raseef22, "My female colleague tried to convince me two years ago to take narcotic pills for free, but I refused". She notes that "that girl is now arrested, but she was able to make many girls become addicted to the pills and have a drug dealer financially and sexually exploit them."
Two years ago, the son of a government official was arrested while he was in possession of drugs. The presidency of the Republic of Iraq issued a decree to pardon him in February this year, before retracting the decision, with the possibility that the official's son had left Iraq by that time, according to more than one source, which led the Iraqi government to become more suspicious.
Who holds drug traffickers in Iraq accountable? And who can pursue and prosecute the influential parties that stand behind them, and hold them accountable?
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