Thursday, January 17, 2008

Iraq the next narco-state?

By Libby

This was first reported back in May of last year but reporters were unable to get to sites in southern Iraq to confirm that poppy cultivation was beginning to take hold in Iraq. Today, Patrick Cockburn has a follow-up. It appears the initial reports were correct and the poppies are now showing up in new locations.
The cultivation of opium poppies whose product is turned into heroin is spreading rapidly across Iraq as farmers find they can no longer make a living through growing traditional crops.

Afghan with experience in planting poppies have been helping farmers switch to producing opium in fertile parts of Diyala province, once famous for its oranges and pomegranates, north- east of Baghdad. [...]
Just as in Afghanistan, the farmers are driven by simple economics and the beneficiaries who exploit their poverty are those who fight our troops.
The agency cites a local agricultural engineer identified as M S al-Azawi as saying that local farmers got no support from the government and could not compete with cheap imports of fruit and vegetables. The price of fertiliser and fuel has also risen sharply. Mr Azawi says: "The cultivation of opium is the likely solution [to these problems]."

Al-Qa'ida is in control of many of the newly established opium farms and has sometimes taken the land of farmers it has killed, said a local source. At Buhriz, American military forces destroyed the opium farm and drove off al-Qa'ida last year but it later returned. "No one can get inside the farm because it is heavily guarded," said the source, adding that the area devoted to opium in Diyala is still smaller than that in southern Iraq around Amara and Majar al-Kabir.
For all the talk about the 'success' of the surge, the day to day reality for Iraqis is one of deprivation and desperation. The most honest of men will turn to illegal pursuits when their family's welfare is at stake, which should surprise no one. Given the choice between feeding your children and breaking a law, what would you choose?

Furthermore, given the ongoing turmoil and lack of economic security in Iraq, we can expect to see this trend increase. This is good for the prohibitionists. They'll get another front in their war on some drugs. Good for drug cartels. One more source for their product. For the rest of us, not so great.

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