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Iran: Government Reverses Course In War On Drugs

Police seize drugs in Afghanistan in May The Iranian approach to drug control is very relevant to the rest of the world, because Iran's neighbor, Afghanistan, is the world's leading producer of opium. Iran leads the international community in global opium seizure rates and it is second to Pakistan in opiate seizures, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Iran also leads the world in the prevalence of drug abuse (2.8 percent of the population aged 15 or older), according to the UNODC.

For many years Iran attacked these problems by emphasizing supply-interdiction, but in recent years an increasing proportion of the government's counternarcotics budget has gone to demand-reduction. Information from Iran now indicates that the country's counternarcotics strategy is undergoing changes, and corruption and bureaucratic rivalries might affect drug control efforts. Meanwhile, Iran is continuing its cooperation with the international community.

Return To Supply-Interdiction

The emphasis on demand-reduction appears to be undergoing a reversal under the administration of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Fada-Hussein Maleki succeeded Ali Hashemi as secretary of the Drug Control Headquarters in mid-September. Approximately one week later, Maleki met with Roberto Arbitrio, Tehran representative of the UNODC, to discuss the government's counternarcotics policies.

Maleki described a three-pronged approach, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on 22 September. The most important aspect of this approach is supply-interdiction, he said. The second part is cooperation with other governments and with international organizations to put pressure on drug-producing states. The final part is demand-reduction, by educating young people and their families on the dangers of drug abuse.

An earlier indication of this approach was the statement by Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi, who said that once the government's new security measures are implemented, a relentless campaign against drug dealers and traffickers will get under way, "Iran" reported on 13 September. Mortazavi said the campaign will begin in the capital and will be implemented in other cities later.

Corruption Allegations

While these developments are under way, there have been allegations that corruption is hindering drug control efforts. Maku's parliamentary representative, Mohammad Abbaspur, said that narcotics would not have as wide a reach in Iran as they do without the involvement of government officials in smuggling, Radio Farda reported on 29 August. The security forces, prisons organization, customs posts, and the Drug Control Headquarters are all institutions that are liable to be infiltrated by organized criminals, and every day more and more of them are exposed, Abbaspur said. For example, he said, the amount of drugs in the prisons cannot be attributed solely to the prisoners and their families. And without the cooperation of Iranian airlines personnel, he continued, how can ecstasy pills be smuggled in from the Netherlands and Denmark?

Ali Hashemi, who was head of the Drug Control Headquarters at the time, confirmed that a few Iranian officials have been involved in trafficking, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 27 August. Hashemi, however, accused the United States of exaggerating this issue in an effort to discredit Iran. However, the most recent International Narcotics Control Strategy Report from the U.S. State Department remarks positively on Iranian drug-control efforts ( "There is overwhelming evidence of Iran's strong commitment to keep drugs leaving Afghanistan from reaching its citizens," according to the report. "As Iran strives to achieve this goal, it also prevents drugs from reaching markets in the West." Regarding corruption, the report notes, "there is no indication that senior government officials aid or abet narcotics traffickers, [but] there are reports of corruption among lower/mid-level law enforcement, which is consistent with the transit of multiple-ton drug shipments across Iran."

Alleged corruption is not the only problem in the Iranian drug control campaign. Thirty-two organizations and ministries are connected with the Drug Control Headquarters, and this has led to bureaucratic disputes.

Brigadier General Mehdi Aboui, who heads the national police counternarcotics unit, said on 15 August that allegations that his organization's activities are ineffective are untrue and baseless, IRNA reported. Such claims are meant to harm the image of the police force, he said, and they will be prosecuted by the judiciary.

Earlier, Aboui said the drug addiction rate in Iran has remained stable since 2001, "Etemad" reported on 21 July. He stressed his organization's efforts along the Afghan border and noted the casualties the police have suffered.

This could be a reaction to Hashemi's early-July rejection of police statistics of 3 million drug addicts. Hashemi noted that in 1943 there were 5,000 addicts out of a population of 16 million; in 1978 there were 2 million drug abusers (out of a population of approximately 35 million); and in 1987 there were 3 million drug abusers. (out of a population of approximately 50 million), "Iran" reported on 4 July. Hashemi said there are actually up to 3.5 million addicts and a total of 4 million drug abusers. He went on to note the rise in Afghan opium production figures and questioned how that could not cause a commensurate rise in Iranian drug abuse.

International Cooperation

Iran continues to be engaged with the international community in the war on drugs. In addition to being a signatory to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Iran is active in the Drug Control Coordination Unit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). Iran has signed relevant memorandums of understanding with at least 21 countries, including Great Britain, Italy, Russia, and Turkey.

Iran also is active in the Paris Pact for countries affected by the Afghan opium economy, in which the main focus is border control and law enforcement along the main trafficking routes. A Paris Pact conference took place in Tehran in mid-September. The event was organized by the Drug Control Headquarters and the UNODC and it included participants from 40 countries. Drug Control Headquarters chief Hashemi noted that this meeting is necessary for the development of strategies and an exchange of views. He said sharing information will contribute to effectiveness and efficiency.

Iran is very active in cooperating with and assisting Afghanistan in its efforts to confront opium cultivation and trafficking. Seyyed Mohammad Azam, spokesman for the Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry, attended the Paris Pact conference in Tehran. In a 14 September interview with Mashhad radio's Dari service, he praised Iranian efforts saying, "The Afghan government believes that the Islamic Republic of Iran has played an effective role in tackling drugs. We value the activities of Iran's counternarcotics forces and are grateful for their cooperation. We now have bilateral cooperation and hope to strengthen these positive and effective relations in the future, too."

See also:

Analysis: Iran's Drug Problems Appear To Be Worsening

World's Largest-Ever Pile Of Drugs Destroyed In Afghanistan