Smugglers Easily Cross Iraq’s Border

The level of border control differs between countries and changes from one time to another.

On the 1,458-kilometer (906-mile) Iraq-Iran border, the smuggling of weapons, drugs and people has always been a major and unsolvable problem. Most smuggling takes place in the south: in Basra, Amarah — where there are large stretches of marshes and swamps on the border — and Wasit, and through some smuggling routes in the north.

Until recently, the smuggling across the 242-kilometer (150-mile) Iraq-Kuwait border was about wines and people. But after the second Gulf War, when international observers deployed there, conditions on the short border became more complicated.

The 814-kilometer (506-mile) Iraqi-Saudi border, which extends across the vast Western Desert, was open for decades for nomads but also for smugglers and drug traffickers coming from Iran and Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia — a practice that is still going on.

The sheep trade was a major smuggling route along the 181-kilometer (112-mile) Iraq-Jordan border — which is short compared to that of other countries — making smugglers less active there.

After 2003, the 605-kilometer (376-mile) Iraq-Syria border has been the most eventful and was considered the most dangerous because it was being used by al-Qaeda fighters and for weapons smuggling. Before 2003, things were not much better on that border.

The 331-kilometer (205-mile) Iraq-Turkey border has been the source of a permanent crisis between the two countries, because it was being used by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters to conduct operations inside Turkey. That border has for decades been a battleground with the Turkish government, which has repeatedly complained about it.

The Iraqi borders are complicated. They have always facilitated the spread of the smuggling profession — especially in the border towns — which often share social and historic ties with the towns on the other side of the border.


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.