Middle East: The Poppies Blossom in Iraq

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British journalist Patrick Cockburn, writing in The Independent reports that opium poppy cultivation is rapidly spreading across Iraq. While Cockburn reported in May that poppies had appeared near Diwaniyah in southern Iraq, he now reports that poppies are growing in restive Diyala province, where Al Qaeda in Iraq is making what could be a last stand.

the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
Diyala, deeply divided between Kurds, Sunni, and Shia, is so violent that local security forces have little time to deal with drug cultivation. The Iraqi news agency al-Malaf Press reported that farmers have turned to poppy cultivation around Khalis, Sa'adiya, Dain'ya, and Baladruz, while Cockburn added the town of Buhriz to the list. But cultivation is even more extensive in southern Iraq, especially around Amara and Majar al-Kabir.

The news agency quoted a local engineer as saying local farmers got no support from the government and could not compete with cheap imported fruits and vegetables. They also face rising fuel and fertilizer prices. "The cultivation of opium is the likely solution to these problems," said the engineer.

The poppy growing and trafficking is linked to Sunni and Shia militias, Cockburn wrote. US military strategy has relied on developing a 70,000-member Sunni militia, many of whose members dabble in protection rackets, crime, and smuggling. Similarly, Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the powerful Shia Mehdi Army militia, has complained that criminals have infiltrated its ranks. According to Cockburn, it is the local warlords and the militias that have sponsored the opium planting, not the farmers.

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Opium in Iraq

[email protected] Vancouver,B.C. Canada Why is it that where ever the US is fighting an unpopular war,there's a huge rise in opium production?I'm sure this is just a huge coincidence but it sure is a repeating situation.From Viet Nam and air America to Afghanistan and now Iraq.Then there was the contras and cocaine for guns.For a country that is backing the spread of the war on drugs to every corner of the planet.This seems like a contrary policy.It would be easier to take the drug war and all it's insane inequality if there seemed to be some direction to the thing.The only consistency is the racist basis for the original laws and their imposition in an effort to control a segment of other than white society.I keep thinking that if the word gets out of the racism behind the drug war.The thing will grind to a merciful halt.I've been waiting for 40 years so far.I guess I've been doing a piss poor job of spreading the word.Either that,or people just don't care.

People don't care.

People don't care.

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