Smugglers Easily Cross Iraq’s Border

By Mushreq Abbas for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

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.


12 Responses to Smugglers Easily Cross Iraq’s Border

  1. Baghdad Invest 18th October 2013 at 14:09 #

    AS soon as the invasion took place in 2003 the first thing to happen was for the borders to be left literally wide open enabling anyone and everyone to come and go as they please.

    Iraq is awash with people whom really should not be there, 10 years on the situation is way out of control.

  2. Aws Aws 20th October 2013 at 12:19 #

    Dear Sir,
    As the writer of the piece correctly mentions,the issue of smuggling has been going on for a long time. Ever since the establishment of bona fide countries/states with defined borders, goods and humans have been and still are transited among them.While the article mentions the smuggling of weapons and fighters between Iraq and few of its neighbors and what those imply in terms of national security ,there is a product that seems benign on the surface but has as many sinister implications on security and terrorism. The smuggling of cigarettes which is rampant, particularly from Iraq to both Iran and Syria is a major source of financing for groups involved in some very nasty activities. During the Saddam regime, the smuggling of cigarettes was actually supported by that regime and confined to few well known businessmen who maintained close relationships and were sponsored by either the repressive security organization, Al-Mukhabarat or Saddam's eldest son, Uday. The huge profits which were realized from that smuggling by those businessmen with the knowledge and abetting of the multinational cigarettes companies,of course, enabled the regime's infamous symbols to benefit tremendously from that trade. After the fall of the regime, however, those same businessmen expanded the smuggling of cigarettes which was generating even more profits now due to the collapse of border controls and the removal of their sponsors which meant they didn't have to pay the graft. Eventually, however, and as it is a well known fact, the areas bordering Syria became the hotbed of Al-Qaeda activities and the borders were wide open between the two countries. Realizing what a huge source of financing the smuggling of cigarettes could be for their activities, insurgents began to exact fees on the trade. This continued throughout the insurgency and were taken over by those insurgents who converted their allegiances to become the awakening councils. From the Syrian side on the other hand, Assad's regime cronies were the beneficiaries of that trade by collecting their grafts from corrupt border officials after the latter kept their cut.

    Nowadays,the smuggling of cigarettes continues to finance terrorist activities in the Mosul and jazeera desert areas on both the Iraqi and Syrian sides. On the Anbar side, however,the payments are made to corrupt Iraqi officials, while it is paid to whoever happens to be in control at the routes on the Syrian side, be they government or rebels.

    What is perplexing and unclear is that throughout all these years of this illicit trade, the international companies whose products are smuggled,did not restrict the ability of their importers to continue in this smuggling. They have maintained the prices of their goods in Iraq deliberately low knowing full well that their products will flow to neighboring countries to finance corruption, unsavory characters or even worse terror activities.