Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 12:51 GMT
Smuggling alcohol into Iran and drugs into Kurdistan


Kurdish alcohol smugglers near Penjwen town, Iraq/Iran border, Mar. 2006.

By Ali S. Murad

Near Haji Omeran town near the Iranian border, northeast of Erbil province, smugglers market alcohol on a spot of ground they call Barzari Mashrubfroshan (Market of Alcohol Sellers).

The small smuggling bazaar is located on a foothill where hundreds of sellers hide inside their tents daily, waiting for Iranian customers while avoiding religious authorities who strictly forbid their contraband. The smugglers carry wine and other types of alcohol as well as cigarettes and other illegal items into Iran on the backs of their mules, while border guards from both countries are within eyesight.

In addition to the possibility of being shot by Iranian border guards, the smugglers take a very narrow, difficult path loaded with mines left behind from decades of regional wars. Already many have died in mine explosions.

"Our work is very difficult. When smugglers leave toward the Iranian border, they are not sure that they will arrive safe," said Abdul-Aziz Adhami, a 44-year-old alcohol seller. Adhami has fled Iran because of a rebellious political background. "Till now, several of my friends have been shot to death by Iranian border guards."

The most popular starting points of smuggling at the border of Haji Omran-Iran are Bane, Marivan, and Qela Shin. These are the most crowded of many.

Alcohol and foreign cigarettes, including Winston, Easton, Magna, etc., that are smuggled into Iran are strictly prohibited by Iranian authorities. Alcohol sellers and even users may face sentences of whipping or at least a monetary fine. Nevertheless, people, especially youths, buy it.

"Different kinds of cigarettes are smuggled to the other side and a little tax is paid to the government here," said Abdulla Hamad Amin, 26, owner of a cigarette store in that market.

Whisky, vodka, and champagne are the most popular alcohol smuggled into Iran. They are sold for twice the original price to Iranian customers, and for cities further away from the border, prices get progressively more expensive. Smuggling is the only source of living for many families in Haji Omeran.

Alcohols and cigarettes mostly are legally imported into Kurdistan from the Ibrahim Khalil-Turkey border, where they are distributed through Kurdistan. However, Iranian border guards are very firm in preventing smugglers from entering their land, smugglers said.

Meanwhile, observers in Kurdistan constantly accuse the Iranian government of not controlling its borders with Kurdistan, where drugs flow easily into the region.

According to smugglers, they easily cross the border into Kurdistan while carrying drugs.

"Many smugglers sometimes pay bribes to Iranian checkpoint guards and import opium into Kurdistan," concluded Adhami.