Khurshid, the khajakji (the local word for a smuggler), smiled when he spoke of the border. “It’s a fairy tale for domestic consumption only, not a reality, at least for us,” he said.
Khurshid is a Kurdish smuggler who is now “retired” because of his age. He and many of his colleagues have left the profession and are now in the trade business. They do not use the word khajakji because it connotes an illegal activity. But Khurshid believes he performed a national service for the Kurdish people, as they faced a suffocating, government-backed, decades-long blockade and greatly relied on smugglers for food, fuel and goods.
He told Al-Monitor, “Borders are thought of as official outlets, stations or steel barriers, but the definition is completely different for smugglers who see borders as fluid and overlapping, with thousands of routes that are only known to the people on both sides. … Millions of Iraqi soldiers and Iranians used to be deployed on both sides of the border between the two countries throughout the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). The fighting and shelling was nonstop. Despite that, we never found it difficult transporting supplies, fuel or even people between the two countries.”
Khurshid and Salman al-Shammari, who lives in Mosul and for years smuggled to and from Syria despite the closure of the border throughout the 1970s and 1980s, consider smuggling to be more about timing than location. Borders are considered true borders only when there are official forces guarding both sides, not at other times. So smugglers are good in the “timing” game.
Iraq shares 3,631 kilometers (2,256 miles) of border with six countries: Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, in addition to a narrow sea coast of 58 kilometer (36 miles).
Iraq’s borders are a problem with all its neighboring countries. In addition, there are disputes with a number of countries over the border demarcation line and the ownership of oil wells. Cross-border smuggling has been a major concern for countries in the region.