Monday, October 25, 2010

Drug, Alcohol Abuse grows among Iraqi Forces

The Seattle Times

A growing number of Iraqi security-force members are becoming dependent on drugs or alcohol, which has led to concerns about a significant addiction problem among the country's armed services as the insurgency remains a potent force and American troops prepare to depart at the end of next year.

In some regions of Iraq, military and police officials say, as many as 50 percent of their colleagues, including high-ranking officers, use drugs or alcohol while on duty.

While there is no way to know the exact number of drug- and alcohol-dependent members among Iraq's 675,000-member security force, interviews with dozens of soldiers, police officers, political leaders, health officials, pharmacists and drug dealers indicate that drug and alcohol use among the police and the military appears to have grown significantly during the past year or so.

Those who admit to using drugs and alcohol say long hours working at checkpoints, constant fear and witnessing the grisly deaths of colleagues make drugs and alcohol less a choice than a necessity.

"Pills are cheaper than cigarettes and they make you more comfortable and relaxed," said Nazhan al-Jibouri, a police officer in Nineveh province in northern Iraq. "They help us forget that we are hungry, and they make it easier to deal with people. They encourage us during moments when we are facing death."

A spokesman for Iraq's Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, denied that the military had a drug problem. Health officials say it is part of a larger problem of drug abuse in Iraq, where addiction has spread amid three decades of war and economic hardship.

The problem has been exacerbated by the recent proliferation of powerful prescription medications — as well as of smuggled heroin, marijuana and hashish from Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Police and Iraqi army officials in Diyala province, on the Iranian border, say they believe insurgents have moved into drug smuggling to finance their activities.

Illegal drugs in Iraq are readily available in cafes, markets and on the street via dealers.

Among the more popular pills are a potent form of Valium made in Iran and nicknamed "the bloody," because of its red package; a pill called "Abu Hajib" or Father of the Eyebrow — because of its parallel squiggly lines — that packs a heroinlike punch; a pink pill nicknamed the "Lebanani" that produces feelings of bliss; amphetamines; muscle relaxants; and a variety of hallucinogens.

When those drugs are not available, security-force members say they guzzle several bottles of cough syrup at a time or drink spirits.

The United States has spent more than $22 billion training and equipping Iraqi security forces since 2004.

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