By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
In the oil-rich city of Basra in southern Iraq, drug-trafficking gangs are gaining power. Through certain areas on the Iraqi-Iranian border, drugs come in from Iran to be consumed in Basra or smuggled to other Iraqi cities.
On Oct. 4, forces from the anti-drug office of the Basra police were able to arrest one drug dealer. However, local authorities are unable to touch major drug-trafficking gangs, because the local police lack the expertise and means to do so and thus only arrests middlemen and drug users.
The drug trade has been linked to several problems such as armed conflicts between gangs, murders, kidnappings and armed robberies. For instance, on Oct. 8, the Basra police reported that a young man was shot dead while another was injured as a result of an armed brawl between drug gangs. On Oct. 17, the Basra police also arrested two drug dealers with a significant quantity of marijuana and three guns.
Back on Aug. 25, Basra Police Chief Abdul-Karim al-Mayahi noted at a press conference, “Drug use has skyrocketed in 2016, and control is needed over the borders of Basra province to prevent drugs from entering.” What began as a provincial matter turned into a national priority as efforts to fight it gained great momentum at the security and defense committee meetings held at the parliament on Oct. 3.
The number of drug abusers arrested in 2016 increased by about 300% compared to 2015, when 261 people were arrested for drug violations. That number jumped to 780 just in the first eight months of 2016. The amount of narcotic substances seized by authorities jumped by almost 12 times during the last fiscal year. The problem poses a threat to the citizens of the province, especially the young men targeted by drug-trafficking gangs.
In 2016, the provincial authorities convicted 47 individuals of drug-trafficking and gave them various sentences, including life imprisonment.