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Analysis: Iranian Counternarcotics Agencies In Bureaucratic Struggle

Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who heads Iran's national police force, told reporters on 15 January that the authorities have seized more than 200 tons of drugs in the last nine months, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

Dispatches from the state news agency in the first two weeks of the year emphasize the extent to which narcotics smuggled from Afghanistan, the world's biggest opium producer, spread throughout Iran: in East Azerbaijan Province police reported seizing 1,291 kilograms in the first nine months of the year, which is four times the amount from the previous year; in Kerman Province police seized 50 tons of drugs; in Khuzestan Province police found 4.5 kilograms of heroin in a woman's handbag. In Markazi Province, where Tehran is located, smugglers offered police a 2 million-rial (approximately $250) bribe when they found 51 kilograms of hashish in a car, and a shoot-out ensued when police refused the bribe. In the last two weeks of December there were similar reports from Bushehr Province, Fars Province, Isfahan Province, Yazd Province, and Zanjan Province, as well as the eastern provinces of Khorasan Razavi, South Khorasan, North Khorasan, and Sistan va Baluchistan.

These eye-catching reports and the accompanying statistics can be misleading. A report in the 1 January issue of "Kayhan" newspaper questioned police counternarcotics unit chief Colonel Mehdi Aboui's claim that the number of drug addicts in Iran has remained fairly constant since 1978. Twenty-five years ago, according to Aboui, there were 1.5 million-2.5 million addicts (in a total population of 33 million-34 million). Two million continues to be the most frequently cited number, although the overall population is nearing 70 million. Moreover, Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi said the 2 million figure is from a 1999 survey and is used as a baseline for planning purposes, and there is no more up-to-date figure, "Sarab" reported on 1 December 2003.

Hashemi has questioned the drug seizure figures provided by the police, furthermore. Aboui claimed that 310 tons of narcotics were seized in 1382 (2003-04), Radio Farda reported on 29 December, whereas Hashemi said only 221 tons were seized.

These claims reflect an ongoing conflict between the police and Drug Control Headquarters. A January 1989 law that outlined punishments for drug traffickers and addicts also created the headquarters, the secretary of which serves as Iran's "drug czar." Presiding over this body is Iran's president, and its other members are the health minister, interior minister, intelligence and security minister, Islamic culture and guidance minister, prosecutor-general, police chief, head of state broadcasting, and the head of the Basij, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.

Aboui complained that while the rest of the world praises Iran's counternarcotics efforts, the Drug Control Headquarters is preventing Iran from achieving its stated goals, "Kayhan" reported on 29 December. Officials from the headquarters who do not have any practical experience come up with impractical theories and undermine the drug-control campaign, he said.

Over the last decade 80 percent of the headquarters' decisions have not been implemented, Aboui said. As an example Aboui discussed camps for drug addicts. Three years after the decision to create such camps, he said, not one exists. The decision to balance narcotics interdiction with rehabilitation of addicts has not been implemented yet, either.

For that matter, the Drug Control Headquarters does not meet very often, Aboui said, and the president should be present at its meetings. The country needs a more aggressive information campaign, and families should deal with addicted relatives more firmly. Addicts have to be taken off the streets and placed in treatment and rehabilitation camps, Aboui recommended.

Iran's handling of the drug problem could be in for some major changes soon. State prosecutor Hojatoleslam Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi, who also is a member of the Expediency Council, said recently that Iran might resume cultivation of opium, Radio Farda reported. This would be used for making pharmaceuticals such as codeine, cough syrup, and even painkillers for cancer patients. The government is also considering making narcotics available to addicts, Radio Farda reported.

As Iran wrestles with its domestic efforts to reduce demand for drugs and the suffering caused by drug abuse, it continues to address the supply side of the problem. Iranian Ambassador to Kabul Mohammad Reza Bahrami met with Afghan Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi on 1 January and expressed his country's readiness to help, Mashhad radio reported. The next day, a delegation of Iranian parliamentarians visited Sistan va Baluchistan Province to inspect the eastern border, Mehr News Agency reported. Alaedin Borujerdi, who serves on the legislature's National Security Committee, said visits such as this are a regular part of the committee's responsibilities.