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Crystal meth and Covid-19: Iraq battles two killer epidemics at once

April 7, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 20.9%. 2 min read.

"The situation in the country was rough. You go and try to find work, but there was no work," Khaled says. "Once, twice and I was hooked. I was trapped. I couldn't get out."

Different versions of this story echo in the cells of the anti-drug police department prison in Baghdad's western district.

The mix of drug users and dealers who we spoke to say Iraq's socioeconomic decay triggered their cycles of abuse.

Throughout this report, Iraq's drug users have been identified by pseudonyms to protect their privacy.

"We don't have the capacity," Col Mohammed Alwan, the commander of the drug unit in this part of the capital says.

He estimates that 10% of the population in his area of operations is addicted to drugs, overwhelmingly to crystal meth.

Multiple officials told CNN that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the drug trade in Iraq.

"Drug dealers have their ways, they usually give drugs for free to poor, unemployed people to lure them until they get addicted," General Amad Hussein with the anti-drug police explains as he hands out flyers with a hotline number in an impoverished Baghdad neighborhood.

In addition to unleashing chaos in Iraq, the 2003 US invasion that deposed the country's brutal former ruler also weakened its borders, bolstering the drug trade.

The vast majority of crystal meth, which makes up about 60% of Iraq's drug trade, flows from that border area, senior anti-drug officials tell CNN.

Sitting in a women's prison in Baghdad, she says she has only a vague notion of the shadowy supply chain at the border.

Recently, drug networks have upped their recruitment of women to facilitate trafficking, according to security officials.

"For women, working in the drug trade is easier than it is for men, they can work undercover, they don't bring a lot of attention to themselves," Col Alwan says, pulling out his phone to show us pictures of two women his unit captured a few days prior.

She works closely with the anti-drug department, which would also prefer to have addicts recover than end up behind bars.

The country is at war, anti-drug officials say, a war they fear they are losing.

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