Monday, September 19, 2005

Insurgents and foreign terrorists in Iraq are being financed in part by the illicit drug trade originating in Afghanistan and passing through Iraq to Europe, congressional and defense sources say.

Money from Afghan-produced heroin is being used by terror cells to buy weapons and equipment, and pay Iraqi citizens to conduct attacks on U.S. troops and to plant deadly improvised explosive devices (IEDs), U.S. officials say.

In a Sept. 8 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde wrote of an “emerging and dangerous growth of the illicit drug trade in Iraq, especially with heroin, now originating and pouring out of nearby Afghanistan.”

“We can no longer ignore the threat to our national security from drugs in Iraq,” the Illinois Republican said in the letter, obtained by The Washington Times.

A senior military official, who spent more than a year in Baghdad’s green zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy, said Iraqi intelligence has documented drug routes that cut through Iran, into Iraq and then to Europe via Turkey. The official said some of the heroin cash goes to insurgents.

Andre Hollis, the Pentagon’s top counternarcotics official in President Bush’s first term, said there is growing evidence that the insurgents are buying and selling heroin for profit.

“Iraq has become a transit route for drugs, which are sold in both Europe and in Iraq and are used to further destabilize Iraq by funding anti-coalition militant activities in Iraq,” Mr. Hollis said in an interview.

He said Iran’s hard-line Islamic regime, which opposes the U.S. presence in Iraq, is permitting heroin to cross its territory.

“Iran doesn’t want the drugs to stop in Iran,” Mr. Hollis said. “They don’t care if they end up in Europe or stay in Iraq.”

A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said he had no immediate comment on any heroin-terror link in Iraq.

Mr. Hyde urged Miss Rice to find $100,000 to fund a study of Iraq’s illegal-drug networks by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, stopped short of endorsing a study, but added, “We support and are prepared to work with the United Nations to assess Iraq’s vulnerabilities and see what we can do to prevent this from being a problem.”

Mr. Hyde’s letter referred to the seizure earlier this month of 44 pounds of Afghan-produced heroin in the Shi’ite city of Karbala. Last year, The Washington Times quoted a Polish general in charge in southern Iraq as saying his troops seized bags of heroin during various raids in the same area.

To anti-drug advocates, such as Mr. Hyde, the Karbala seizure put the spotlight on the terror-drug connection in Iraq, just like the seizure of two drug boats in the Arabian Sea last year highlighted the al Qaeda connection in Afghanistan. The U.S. Navy said at the time that the boats were manned by al Qaeda-linked traffickers.

Congressional and defense sources say the military downplays the al Qaeda-heroin link because it does not want Congress to push the Pentagon into the counternarcotics mission. It views such work as law enforcement, not war-fighting.

The Washington Times has obtained photographs taken by American special-operations forces of bags of opium gum seized on raids of al Qaeda and Taliban hide-outs in Afghanistan.

“We know that illicit drugs fuel and finance terrorism in Afghanistan, where the opium and heroin in the region originates,” Mr. Hyde said in his letter to Miss Rice. “It passes out through terrorist-controlled areas, is taxed by them, and helps finance and arm our terrorists enemies.”

The U.N. drug office last did an Iraq survey two years ago, which reported that “Iraq’s porous borders, an established culture of smuggling, combined with its geographic location … suggests the strong possibility of growth in drug trafficking.”

Mr. Hyde said he wants to a new U.N. study “to be especially focused on its potential impact in financing insurgent terrorists and their networks.”

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