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.