Confronting the Traumatic Fallout of War in Iraq

By Hussein Al-Alak, Editor of Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra). Re-published with permission by Iraq Business News.

In May 2005, the UN announced that Iraq was "about to become a transit station for heroin", where after being "manufactured in Afghanistan is heading towards Europe through neighbouring Iran".

In 2013, it was reported that "violence, unemployment and poverty" had led to a dramatic "increase" in drug abuse across Iraq and that drugs were becoming wide spread, in places where child labour is commonly used - such as in car repair shops and on road junctions, where cheap goods are often sold.

The Baghdad Post reported how the Islamic State were cultivating opium in Sharqat to finance their terror based operations. According to the publication, opium was being used to extract heroin in the laboratories of the University of Mosul, after falling under IS control in June 2014.

In Kurdistan, security forces raided a drugs farm in October 2016 and found narcotics with an estimated value of around $1 million. The mountainous nature and rough terrain of Northern Iraq, had made it difficult for security services to detect this and other drug farms in the area.

In 2017, it was highlighted by the Associated Press, how Iraq's national security agency confirmed the presence of facilities producing drugs - such as crystal meth - in the Basra and Maysan provinces in the south of Iraq.

According to anti-narcotics officers in Basra, since 2014 the drugs trade has flourished because of the vacuum left, when security forces were moved from the borders to join the fight against the Islamic State, which swept through nearly a third of Iraq that year.

Mental Health, Drug Abuse and Seeking Solutions

Those vulnerable to drug abuse and those experiencing drug addictions, are people living with conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - where extreme acts of violence and isolation due to instability - has left people turning to illegal drugs to "numb" the pain of conflict.

While treatments for such conditions often vary, the Narconon rehabilitation service, holds a different perspective to other treatments offered for drug and substance abuse. Narconon don't have "patients", "victims" or even "addicts". They have "students who are learning to live a successful drug-free life."

As people are often proscribed legal drugs, to suppress cravings or to dumb down the psychological element of addiction, Narconon offers more therapeutic remedies, with "no substitute drugs" and they also seek long lasting solutions by addressing the question; "what drove a person to drugs in the first place?"

In an approach similar to rehabilitation techniques like Mindfulness or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Narconon recognises the connection between mental health and addiction, where "a person's attention can be stuck in thousands of different moments", which then impacts a persons overall behaviour in the present.

Quite often, people living with PTSD can also experience sleeplessness, feelings of detachment, alienation, a lack of motivation and suicidal thoughts. The traumatic experience gives so much mental attention to the past - that even years after the traumatic incident - the person is often left with "little or no attention for the here and now."

Repairing the mind, body and spirit

As Iraq emerges from the battle with Islamic State and as the country seeks to rehabilitate its infrastructure, people need their own rehabilitation services to overcome the hidden wounds of war. People also need to be mindful, that Iraq's approaches to Mental Health may also be under-developed due to neglect, a lack of investment and displacement.

While the professional brain drain Iraq experienced due to conflict, may mean conditions like PTSD and addictions have been left untreated, it's worth giving consideration to the fact; bricks and mortar can replace the material scars of war but drug abuse and the absence of mental health services, can lead to other long term conflicts.


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