A leading Iraqi police officer, Munim Abd al-Razaq, has urged officers from the disbanded Iraqi army to join the police to help counter the increasing problem of cocaine trafficking.

Polish and Ukrainian forces stationed near Badra and Zurbatia, the most active trafficking points on the 1200km Iraq-Iran border, have so far failed to ebb the flow.

Now, according to police sources, 1200 extra Iraqi policemen will be deployed in the area from April.

Iraqi Governing Council member Mahmud Uthman has criticised weak border controls for compounding the problem.

"In the past, Iraq had thousands of checkpoints as well as guards, but today little attention is being given to this area," he said. 

Box sniff 

Saad Ibrahim, a journalist in Aljazeera's Baghdad office, says the thousands of criminals released from prison just before the occupation of Iraq have also contributed to the growing drugs trade.

"Criminals released right before the war last year, a low standard of living since occupation, unemployment and stress are factors contributing to the rise in drug related crime.

"It's not only cocaine. We have been witnessing many kinds of drugs that we've never seen in Iraq and drugged tea," he says. Box sniff, a method of inhaling the powdered drugs off the hand, is commonplace.

"Waiters in some cafes in Baghdad understand when you ask them for 'a 400-dinar tea' it means tea with drugs mixed in."

Daylight drug selling

Drugs brought from Iran have been found in Iraq's holy cities including Najaf and Karbala. Drug dealers can easily be found on the streets of these two religious centres.

In Baghdad narcotics are being sold with newspapers at traffic lights by Iraqi children.

"People in the past were afraid even to tell a joke about drugs in public, but now you can see children at traffic lights coming to you and asking if you need a newspaper or some capsules."