Posted by: Lister | May 24, 2007

Opium production in Iraq

Victory for lawlessness: Iraq’s deadly new export

Farmers in southern Iraq have started to grow opium poppies in their fields for the first time, sparking fears that Iraq might become a serious drugs producer along the lines of Afghanistan.

Rice farmers along the Euphrates, to the west of the city of Diwaniya, south of Baghdad, have stopped cultivating rice, for which the area is famous, and are instead planting poppies, Iraqi sources familiar with the area have told The Independent.

[…] The shift to opium production is taking place in the well-irrigated land west and south of Diwaniya around the towns of Ash Shamiyah, al Ghammas and Ash Shinafiyah. The farmers are said to be having problems in growing the poppies because of the intense heat and high humidity. It is too dangerous for foreign journalists to visit Diwaniya but the start of opium poppy cultivation is attested by two students from there and a source in Basra familiar with the Iraqi drugs trade.

[…] As in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, these conditions of primal anarchy are ideal for criminal gangs and drug smugglers and producers. The difference is that Afghanistan had long been a major producer of opium and possessed numerous laboratories experienced in turning opium into heroin. The Taliban, on the orders of its leader, Mullah Omar, had stopped its cultivation by farmers in the parts of Afghanistan it controlled. Farmers near the southern city of Kandahar grubbed up cauliflowers and planted poppies instead as soon as the US started bombing.

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  1. An update from Patrick Cockburn, Opium fields spread across Iraq as farmers try to make ends meet:

    The shift by Iraqi farmers to producing opium was first revealed by The Independent last May and is a very recent development. The first poppy fields, funded by drug smugglers who previously supplied Saudi Arabia and the Gulf with heroin from Afghanistan, were close to the city of Diwaniyah in southern Iraq. The growing of poppies has now spread to Diyala, which is one of the places in Iraq where al-Qa’ida is still resisting US and Iraqi government forces. It is also deeply divided between Sunni, Shia and Kurd and the extreme violence means that local security men have little time to deal with the drugs trade. The speed with which farmers are turning to poppies is confirmed by the Iraqi news agency al-Malaf Press, which says that opium is now being produced around the towns of Khalis, Sa’adiya, Dain’ya and south of Baladruz, pointing out that these are all areas where al-Qa’ida is strong.

    The agency cites a local agricultural engineer identified as M S al-Azawi as saying that local farmers got no support from the government and could not compete with cheap imports of fruit and vegetables. The price of fertiliser and fuel has also risen sharply. Mr Azawi says: “The cultivation of opium is the likely solution [to these problems].”

    Al-Qa’ida is in control of many of the newly established opium farms and has sometimes taken the land of farmers it has killed, said a local source. At Buhriz, American military forces destroyed the opium farm and drove off al-Qa’ida last year but it later returned. “No one can get inside the farm because it is heavily guarded,” said the source, adding that the area devoted to opium in Diyala is still smaller than that in southern Iraq around Amara and Majar al-Kabir.

    After being harvested, the opium from Diyala is taken to Ramadi in western Iraq. There are still no reports of heroin laboratories being established in Iraq, unlike in Afghanistan.

    Iraq has not been a major consumer of drugs but heroin from Afghanistan has been transited from Iran and then taken to Basra from where it is exported to the rich markets of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf. Under Saddam Hussein, state security in Basra was widely believed to control local drug smuggling through the city.


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