Soaring drug addiction plagues lives of war-torn Ramadi in Iraq

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RAMADI, IRAQ / BOGOTA, COLOMBIA: Ramadi was released by Iraqi security forces in the dying days of 2015 after several months under Daesh control. Since then, residents of the war-torn provincial capital, 110 km west of Baghdad, have struggled to rebuild their lives amid severe economic hardship.

After decades of war, occupation and central government neglect, the people of Ramadi are barely making it, with high unemployment rates, slow post-war reconstruction and the double threat posed by the remains. Daesh and pro-Iranian militias.

In the vast desert province of Anbar, bordering Syria to the west, conditions are conducive to exploitation by terrorist cells and criminal gangs that smuggle people, arms and drugs. .

Long used as a transit route for moving goods by land, the province now offers a ready market for many illicit items, especially Captagon.

Iraqi government forces are gathering in the Khalidiya region, east of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, in the fight against Daesh. (AFP / photo file)

Captagon, an amphetamine also known by its street name “0.1”, is one of the most commonly used drugs on the battlefields of the Middle East. Drug addicted fighters say it helps them stay awake for days and numbs their senses, giving them stamina for long battles and allowing them to kill with abandon.

Ahmed Ali refuses to give his real name because he is ashamed of his drug addiction. The 23-year-old started using Captagon recreationally after the defeat of Daesh, but soon came to depend on little yellow pills to stay alert during his strenuous work hours.

“I started taking Captagon in 2017 when a friend gave it to me. I was curious. I just wanted to try it, ”Ali told Arab News from his home in Ramadi. “It’s the most popular drug here. Most young people take it.

Due to its energizing and mood-boosting effects, Captagon has become a popular recreational drug in the wider region. “People think it makes them feel better. But for me, I use it to stay alert because my job requires me to stay awake for a long time, ”Ali said.


Ahmed Ali, real name, started using Captagon recreationally after Daesh was defeated in his native Ramadi, but quickly became addicted. (AN Photo / Meethak Al-Khatib)

“There aren’t a lot of job opportunities here, so when you have a job you have to stick with it. If you lose your job, you might not get another for many years. The longest I have been awake without sleep is three days.

Captagon is popular among students who use it to study overnight with the mistaken belief that they will get better grades as a result. In practice, Ali has found this to have the exact opposite effect.

“I once took a test and took two and a half pills at a time. My body started to shake. I couldn’t write anything. My hands were very shaky. This is the largest amount I have taken at one time.

The market value of two Captagon pills in Ramadi is 5,000 IQD ($ 3.43). As smugglers are able to move millions of these tiny pills concealed in legitimate cargo shipments, dealers stand to gain from a reliable base of local drug addicts.

Anbar Police declined to tell Arab News about their fight with Captagon, but recently touted the success of several raids, which led to 19 arrests and the seizure of 134,589 tablets between April and July of this year.

Nevertheless, Captagon continues to spread throughout Anbar and neighboring provinces. Many are now urging authorities to change tactics and treat drug addicts as patients in need of rehabilitation rather than criminals and moral deviants.

Noureddine Al-Hamdani, 28, volunteers with the Peace Forum, an independent group founded in 2017 to fight the many social ills that plague the lives of Ramadi residents, from domestic violence to violations of civil rights.

Noureddine regularly joins her team of volunteers in the bustling Anbar Bazaar to distribute drug addiction brochures. He believes that the spread of drug use may be directly linked to the psychological impact of war.

“The war with Daesh has been one of the main reasons for the spread of Captagon here,” Noureddine said.


Noureddine Al-Hamdani, 28, is a volunteer for the Peace Forum, an independent group founded in 2017 to fight the many social ills that plague the lives of the people of Ramadi. (AN Photo / Meethak Al-Khatib)

As a result, the province has not only become an important regional conduit for drug trafficking, but also a lucrative market. “Anbar is a strategic area bordering several countries where drugs are transported to the country. But now Anbar has become a drug-consuming area, ”he said.

Noureddine believes the local police are fighting a losing battle and that resources could be much better spent providing rehabilitation services, which could help reduce demand for Captagon.

“There are no health facilities that can help drug addicts in Anbar. This means that users are afraid to tell people that they are users or to go to the authorities to tell them that they are users and that they want medical help. The authorities consider them to be criminals. As a result, drug use increases.

“Users are not criminals. Unfortunately, authorities imprison users along with criminals and people accused of terrorism and other crimes.

“We want the government to provide health care to users where they can get help and overcome their addiction. Despite our numerous appeals to local and central authorities, we do not get any response. “


Anbar police expose packets of Captagon pills and a suspect seized in a recent drug seizure. (Provided)

Under Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, drug offenses were punishable by death. Since its ouster in 2003, the Iraqi justice system has become more flexible, but continues to jail people even for minor drug offenses.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act No. 50, enacted in 2017, authorizes courts to impose prison sentences of one to three years and impose heavy fines for importing, producing or possessing narcotics. Article 288 of the same law provides for life imprisonment for those found guilty of opening drug dens.

Yet, according to the World Drug Report 2020, drug trafficking inside and outside Iraq has increased steadily since 2003. Hamid Ali Jasim, a Ramadi lawyer specializing in narcotics cases, believes that the system does not work. “Before 2003, Iraq was still a drug transit country, where drugs were transported from Iran to Syria, the Gulf States and Lebanon. Iraq was not a drug consuming or producing country until 2003, ”said Jasim.

“Before 2003, the drug laws were so severe that possession of a few narcotic pills could result in a death sentence. Then, in 2017, a new drug law was enacted in Iraq, which also classified Captagon as a psychoactive drug.

But when the authorities realized that resellers and users weren’t discouraged, they imposed even tougher penalties. Now, possession of a hundred Captagon pills can result in up to six years in prison and a minimum fine of 10 million IQD ($ 6,850).

“The court ruled that heavy penalties would lead to a drop in drug use, but that was not true,” Jasim said. “We don’t have health facilities that can offer treatment to convicted drug addicts and authorities believe that locking people down will solve the drug problem. “


Hamid Ali Jasim, a Ramadi drug lawyer, believes Iraq’s anti-narcotics policy is not working. (AN Photo / Meethak Al-Khatib)

Jasim believes that the drug use epidemic is also compounded by corruption within the prison system. “After 2003, many police officers – I’m not saying all, but the majority – were not happy with their rates of pay, so they started looking for other sources of income such as providing phone calls or others. things to inmates for money, including Captagon, ”he said.

Jasim also alleges that properties are frequently searched without a valid court order, that suspects are often denied the right to have a lawyer present during questioning and that torture is common in police custody.

“In most cases, the police use illegal methods during questioning to find out where the suspect has taken supplies,” Jasim said.

Others are said to have extorted bribes from drug traffickers in exchange for reduced prison terms. “In some cases, resellers make an ‘arrangement’ with the authorities to be taken to court as users, not resellers, for a lesser sentence. “

Due to the massive backlog of cases, investigations are often rushed, evidence filed incorrectly and sentences handed down without due process. “The drug trials here don’t take more than 15 minutes,” Jasim said. “Many people have been unfairly prosecuted. “


Iraqi security forces protect Peace Forum volunteers in downtown Ramadi. (AN Photo / Meethak Al-Khatib)

For Captagon users like Ali, too scared to speak out openly, the system is down. “I would like there to be a rehabilitation clinic here. I would go if there was one, ”he said.

But before Iraq’s legal and medical infrastructure can adapt, the language around drug addiction and mental illness must change. “People think if you take illegal substances you are a dangerous person,” Ali said.

“You find depressed young people all over Iraq. Life here is not normal. But people are afraid to go to a psychologist. Customs and traditions prevent them from doing so. People would think you were crazy.

“The young people here are parading on social media and can see what life is like outside Iraq and how it is better. It makes them depressed. This may give them a reason to use Captagon.

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Twitter: @ meethak55 / @RobertPEdwards

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