Iraqi police and army units arrested suspected members of three drug trafficking rings in Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, and Diwaniya provinces, the Ministry of Interior announced Wednesday (February 15th).
The three rings consisted of 32 members, including six women and one pharmacist, Maj. Gen. Adel Dahham, the ministry's spokesperson, told Mawtani.
Dahham said 11 gang members were wanted by Iraqi courts on various terrorism charges between 2008 and 2011.
He said the gangs are suspected of involvement in trafficking and distribution of 187 kilograms of drugs in 2011, most of which was smuggled into Iraq from neighbouring countries.
Dahham said the arrests were made during the past two weeks following continued surveillance by Iraqi police and the organized crime unit. The families of some young men who became addicted to drugs co-operated with police, he added.
He said the largest gang was detained last Saturday in the eastern part of Baghdad.
"An initial interrogation revealed that this gang is linked to the terrorist al-Qaeda-linked 'black banners' group, which supplies drugs to suicide bombers and gunmen before they carry out terrorist operations," he said.
Dahham said interrogations also revealed that the gang "was trying to establish a permanent market so it can promote its poisons and provide financial support to terrorists".
He said 20 middlemen were also arrested during the campaign.
Col. Raad Mahdi, director of the counter-narcotics office at the Interior Ministry, said some of the drugs police seized were being smuggled inside children's toys, wall paintings and electrical appliances.
Mahdi told Mawtani that the pharmacist who was arrested was smuggling sedatives that are usually given to patients after major surgeries and individuals suffering from epilepsy.
"Efforts are being made to arrest four other gangs in Baghdad by employing intelligence resources and relying on co-operation from civilians," he said.
Col. Salam al-Ibadi, an official with the Interior Ministry's directorate of information, said police used 37 police drug-sniffing dogs and advanced electronic devices, which were used by 70 security personnel who received training in Australia and Egypt.
Al-Ibadi said the Iraqi government agreed to allocate enough funds within this year's budget to boost this effort by importing detection devices and police dogs, as well as recruiting experts and new members for the drug prevention office.
Maj. Gen. Jameel al-Shammary, commander of the Diyala police, called on citizens "to not make any distinction between terrorists and those who are destroying lives through drugs".
"Iraq is being targeted by a multi-faceted terrorist attack, and the car bombs and explosive charges are not the only method being used by the nation's enemies," he said. "Co-operation from citizens is an essential part of eliminating this phenomenon."
He said drug gangs "target mostly university students and teenagers in particular".
Hassan al-Sunaid, chairman of the Iraqi parliament's defence and security committee, said, "The fight against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups should not cause us to forget the criminal gangs that try to promote the use of drugs and prohibited materials."
Al-Sunaid said the government intends to encourage neighbouring countries to intensify their security measures along their borders with Iraq to curb smuggling operations.