Thursday, January 17, 2008
Hop on Poppies
One of the concerns voiced in response to the Awakenings + CLC strategy of coopting Sunni tribal/insurgent groups is that by arming, encouraging and sanctioning so many non-governmental militias, Iraq could devolve into a warlord dominated and highly fragmented quasi-state, ala Afghanistan. If the reporting in this article is accurate, the similarites are only growing.
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[s] 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. [...]
The shift by Iraqi farmers to producing opium was first revealed by The Independent last May and is a very recent development. The first poppy fields, funded by drug smugglers who previously supplied Saudi Arabia and the Gulf with heroin from Afghanistan, were close to the city of Diwaniyah in southern Iraq. The growing of poppies has now spread to Diyala, which is one of the places in Iraq where al-Qa'ida is still resisting US and Iraqi government forces. It is also deeply divided between Sunni, Shia and Kurd and the extreme violence means that local security men have little time to deal with the drugs trade. The speed with which farmers are turning to poppies is confirmed by the Iraqi news agency al-Malaf Press, which says that opium is now being produced around the towns of Khalis, Sa'adiya, Dain'ya and south of Baladruz, pointing out that these are all areas where al-Qa'ida is strong. [...]
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. [...]
The growing and smuggling of opium will be difficult to stop in Iraq because much of the country is controlled by criminalised militias. [emphasis added]