Drug Use Spreads Among Iraqi Youth

There is a growing drug problem among Iraqi youth, who deflect criticism of their drug use by offering social and economic justifications.

al-monitor Iraqi police display drugs which were seized in the southern city of Kerbala, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Baghdad, Sept. 6, 2005. Photo by REUTERS/Mshatq Mohamad.

Topics covered

unemployment, education, drugs, iraq

Jul 1, 2013

The negative effects of illegal drugs in Iraq are becoming more apparent. Iraq is being transformed from a country that exports drugs to the Arabian Gulf into a consumer of them. A decade ago, it was rare to see a group of young people sitting on the river bank or in a cafe smoking marijuana or using heroin. No more.

A young man who asked not to be identified told Al-Monitor why he chose to take drugs. “We live in a miserable world with high unemployment, a lot of daily worries, security disturbances and family problems. So it's OK if the youth try to take their minds off all that with drugs.” What’s even more surprising is that this young man is a university graduate. He smokes five joints a day — when he has the money to buy them — otherwise, he gets them from his friends.

The justifications that young people cite for using a variety of mind-altering substances range from the personal, such as the disintegration of their family, to the social, such as high unemployment and frequent bombings.

From late evening until morning throughout Iraqi cities, growing numbers of youth are high on drugs, a high that they try to maintain by smoking hookahs, cigarettes and other kinds of nicotine-saturated paper.

Ahmad al-Jubouri, a middle school teacher from Babel (100 kilometers [62 miles] south of Baghdad) is unable to help his heroin-addicted brother, because the city has no drug rehabilitation center.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Jubouri admits to having severely beaten his brother once to make him overcome his drug habit. In this conservative society, Jubouri was more concerned about his family’s reputation than about his brother’s health.

Abu Sami, whose eldest son is addicted to drugs, told Al-Monitor, “My fear is no longer about an explosive or a car bomb, but about the terrorism of addiction.”

In June, the police in Diwaniya,193 kilometers [119 miles] south of Baghdad, said that they had arrested a drug dealer with 80,000 pills on him. Drugs are spreading like wildfire in places that use child labor, such as car repair shops, and road junctions where cheap goods are sold.

Asaad Yassin, 14, is a drug addict. “My father’s wife hates me, and she forced me to beg in the streets. My drug addiction will end as soon as I return to school, which I left two years ago,” he told Al-Monitor.

At the end of 2012, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior issued a statement about the drug phenomenon, especially hallucinogenic drugs, which it says can “cause a person to commit crimes.” 

Qassim al-Saadi, a social scientist at Babel University, told Al-Monitor, “Street begging and drug addiction complement each other. To buy their daily drug fix, some boys beg by pretending to sell goods.”

Speaking to Al-Monitor, police officer Ahmed Fadel admitted, “Investigating [those boys] is not part of [the police’s] daily duties. Some boys end the day by sleeping under a bridge or on the sidewalk, after becoming exhausted from drug use.”

Pharmacist Sitar al-Khafaji told Al-Monitor that drug dealers are everywhere and that obtaining drugs is very easy these days. “The spread of [illegal] drugs has resulted in a lower demand for [legal] anesthetic medication,” he said.

Illustrating the threat drugs pose to Iraqi youth, Omran Hassan, 16, told Al-Monitor that a few dollars’ worth of white powder was enough for him to spend a happy day with his friends.

At the end of 2012, a parliamentary committee said, “The security, the judicial and the health services are embarrassed about the spread of drugs.”

Adnan Abu Zeed is an Iraqi author and journalist. 

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