Smugglers Easily Cross Iraq’s Border

The social fabric across the Iraq-Iran border — there are Arab tribes in Amarah and Basra in Iraq and in Ahwaz in Iran, and Kurdish tribes span both sides of the border — make it hard for the two governments to control the smuggling. The case is no different with Turkey, where Kurdish towns are on both sides of the border.

Many members of the tribes in Shamar on the Iraq-Syria border carry both nationalities. The same goes for the city of al-Qaim in Iraq and Boukamal in Syria. Residents of those two towns are considered one family divided by a border.

For border town residents and for Shammari, a border line is no more than a step they take. Shammari told Al-Monitor, “The matter is not limited to the network of social relations, smugglers also make long-term deals with the authorities and border guards in all countries. Their moves are calculated and secure. In a worst-case scenario, if they are arrested, they find ways to avoid punishment.”

Shammari asserted that he never participates in transferring fighters across the Syrian border. But he also believes that “gunmen from both sides have become smugglers themselves. After their long experience, they no longer need a traditional guide.”

Khurshid sees the border similarly. He said that there is a deep-rooted relation among smugglers in various regions, and countries and many family names have become associated with smuggling.

He told Al-Monitor, “In the 1990s, smuggling people was concentrated on the Turkish border, where thousands of young people from different Iraqi cities sought smugglers to escape [former President] Saddam Hussein’s regime and for a chance to get asylum in Europe.”

Other smugglers contacted by Al-Monitor refused to talk, to keep the details of their profession secret. But one smuggler told Al-Monitor on the phone, “The authorities have become more strict with us. They now consider smuggling sheep and some goods enough to consider us terrorists or for facilitating the infiltration of terrorists. It is true that there are those who do that, but those specialize in smuggling people. For us, our profession goes back centuries. We don’t know how to do any other work. We don’t want to get involved in the internal problems of states.”

Mushreq Abbas is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse. He has been managing editor of Al-Hayat’s Iraq bureau since 2005 and has written studies and articles on Iraqi crises for domestic and international publication.

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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.