Smuggling drugs through Iraq on the way to the Gulf and Europe is big business in Maysan province – and it is often the local tribes in the border areas facilitating the enterprise.
Drug trafficking has been a popular trade in the southern province of Maysan since the 1990s.
“We needed to make money because of the international sanctions against Iraq [during Saddam Hussein’s regime],” explains Mohammed Mujbel, a former drug trafficker who spent several years in prison here.
“Saddam was busy with the opposition inside Iraq and Iran was busy with Saddam. It was a big opportunity to make profits because those in the Gulf countries used to buy a lot from us.”
“The work wasn’t easy,” Mujbel admits. “We were making a lot of money but our lives were always in danger. The parties that opposed Saddam were using the border areas as shelters and they would also try and stop us from smuggling drugs. But we managed to do it anyway – inside donkey saddles, cans of food and toys.”
These days drugs come in by car, motorbike and truck, Mujbel says. “The only things that haven’t changed are the smuggling routes on the back roads.”
The drug smugglers bring the drugs from Iran to the Persian Gulf countries, and possibly onto Europe, via the provinces of Dhi Qar or Basra, or alternatively Najaf and Muthanna provinces, which share a desert border with Saudi Arabia. The drugs often originate in Afghanistan.