Increasing numbers of Iraqi military and police personnel are using drugs and alcohol while on duty, raising questions about their ability to maintain order once American troops leave in 2011, the New York Times reported Oct. 24.
The Times based its story on interviews with “dozens” of security personnel, public officials, politicians, pharmacists, and drug dealers, and said the trend had grown worse over the past year. The Iraqi police refused to comment, and the military said that the problem was uncommon.
According to the Times’ sources, in high-risk areas of the country, as many as 50 percent of soldiers and police, including their commanders, use drugs and alcohol to cope with fear, stress, and boredom.
“Pills are cheaper than cigarettes and they make you more comfortable and relaxed,” said Nazhan al-Jibouri, a police officer. “They help us forget that we are hungry, and they make it easier to deal with people. They encourage us during moments when we are facing death.”
Iraqi health officials pointed out that 30 years of war and economic hardship had fed abuse of drugs and alcohol, and not just in the security forces. Illegal drugs — from heroin, hash, and marijuana to stolen prescription medications — are now easy to obtain on the street. Security officials working on the Iranian border believe that drug smuggling funds the insurgents they are fighting.
A soldier in southern Iraq said that lack of treatment contributed to the problem. “The percentage of the addicted among the police and army has increased because there’s no medical staff to help and there are no drug tests,” said Col. Muthana Mohammed.
Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, a spokesman for the Iraqi Defense Ministry, said that drug use was unusual in the army. “We have great intelligence systems in which one of our main duties is to follow the military’s rule breakers,” he said. “We have medical staff concerned with the matter of drug users, and if medical tests prove drug use, we will take the harshest punishment against them.”
Other security personnel said that the police and the military were reluctant to discipline drug users because, according to the Times, they were “among their most fearless fighters.”