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The tall poppies, part 3: prosperity threatens to spread into southern Iraq

Third verse, same as the first.

Let’s say that you are trying to rebuild a once-prosperous country racked by years of tyranny, desperate poverty and near-constant violence. Corruption, terrorism, and warlordism are daily sources of terror. Most of the country is completely dependent on foreign aid. Grinding poverty is the norm all throughout the countryside, and farmers cannot support themselves on their usual crops. But there is one glimmer of hope: lucrative new opportunities to grow a traditional cash crop, which promises to lift many small farmers, currently on the edge of penury or starvation, into a much more comfortable standard of living. How should you react?

Well, according to the United States government, the best thing to do is to portray this lucrative cash crop as a fundamental menace to civil society, to shoot the farmers who grow it, and to poison or burn the fields they grow it in. We know this because they already did it in Afghanistan, in spite of the obviously hurtful consequences for Afghan farmers. Meanwhile, in southern Iraq, the same thing is likely to happen again soon:

The cultivation of opium poppies whose product is turned into heroin is spreading rapidly across Iraq as farmers find they can no longer make a living through growing traditional crops.

Afghan with experience in planting poppies have been helping farmers switch to producing opium in fertile parts of Diyala province, once famous for its oranges and pomegranates, north-east of Baghdad.

At a heavily guarded farm near the town of Buhriz, south of the provincial capital Baquba, poppies are grown between the orange trees in order to hide them, according to a local source.

The shift by Iraqi farmers to producing opium is a very recent development. The first poppy fields, funded by drug smugglers who previously supplied Saudi Arabia and the Gulf with heroin from Afghanistan, were close to the city of Diwaniyah in southern Iraq. The growing of poppies has now spread to Diyala, which is one of the places in Iraq where al-Qa’ida is still resisting US and Iraqi government forces. It is also deeply divided between Sunni, Shia and Kurd and the extreme violence means that local security men have little time to deal with the drugs trade. The speed with which farmers are turning to poppies is confirmed by the Iraqi news agency al-Malaf Press, which says that opium is now being produced around the towns of Khalis, Sa’adiya, Dain’ya and south of Baladruz, pointing out that these are all areas where al-Qa’ida is strong.

The agency cites a local agricultural engineer identified as M S al-Azawi as saying that local farmers got no support from the government and could not compete with cheap imports of fruit and vegetables. The price of fertilizer and fuel has also risen sharply. Mr Azawi says: The cultivation of opium is the likely solution [to these problems].

Initial planting in fertile land west and south of Diwaniya around the towns of Ash Shamiyah, al-Ghammas and Shinafiyah were said to have faced problems because of the extreme heat and humidity. Al-Malaf Press says that it has learnt that the experiments with opium poppy-growing in Diyala have been successful.

Although opium has not been grown in many of these areas in Iraq in recent history, some of the earliest written references to opium come from ancient Iraq.

It was known to the ancient Sumerians as early as 3400BC as the Hul Gil or joy plant and there are mentions of it on clay tablets found in excavations at the city of Nippur just east of Diwaniyah.

— Patrick Cockburn, CounterPunch (2008-01-24): http://www.counterpunch.org/patrick01242008.html

Cockburn, buying into the basic mythology of the United States government’s warped narco-diplomacy, bizarrely describes this rare chance for Iraqi farmers to lift themselves out of poverty with a traditional Mesopotamian crop, now extremely lucrative, as a menacing development, and immediately links it with warlordism and terrorism, rather than with the small farmers who are now able to get by on their new source of income. In fact, as far as I can tell, the upshot of the story is, in some parts of Iraq, because the government’s prohibitionist apparatus has more or less entirely broken down, many currently impoverished farmers are now menaced by the prospect of once again being able to make enough money to support themselves, and the only genuine dangers involved anywhere are the dangers that directly or indirectly result from the bullheaded commitment of the United States government and its client government in Iraq to destroying the opium farmers’ chance at a viable new source of income.

Just as it happened in Afghanistan, what will happen from here in Iraq is that U.S. officials will scream their heads off about the horrible menace of pain-killers being sold to willing customers, and then funnel money and military resources to the Iraqi government in order to launch chemical and paramilitary eradication programs–the primary effects of which will be to dramatically reinforce the power of terrorists and local warlords over the opium trade, and meanwhile to destroy the livelihoods of desperately poor farmers. Eradication, after all, forces illegal opium farmers to deal with whoever has the political juice necessary to do the smuggling, and in southern Iraq that mainly means gangsters, militia warlords, and influential jihadis. The farmers, on the other hand, will be forced to choose between living with the constant danger of having their lives and livelihoods ruined by government eradicators, or else going back to more-or-less guaranteed penury while they try to grow more of the same old unprofitable crops that they failed to make any money from before.

Meanwhile, this violent campaign on behalf of political corruption and mass starvation will be passed off by sanctimonious U.S. and U.N. narco-bureaucrats as a make-or-break struggle for democracy and freedom in Iraq, which, among those who have lost themselves in the twisted labyrinth of statist policy goals, have somehow become immediately and unquestioningly equated with adopting a particular set of policy outcomes in support of the United States government’s hyper-aggressive commitment to domestic drug prohibitionism.

This is statist nation-building on the march — with warlordism and grinding poverty dragging the country down into hell, the U.S., U.N., and U.K. gear up to enforce a political economy straight out of Mao’s Great Leap Forward on a nation of millions so that they never have to question their domestic policy initiatives. The United States government’s rabid pursuit of international narcotics prohibition, no matter what the predictable human consequences of their belligerence, reflects an absolutely deranged set of priorities.

Further reading:

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6 replies to The tall poppies, part 3: prosperity threatens to spread into southern Iraq Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Bill

    Everyone knows where the poppy fields are, and where the dope is going to end up. The troops are in the field and the equipment is in the area, to end this scourge immediately.

    Then the “poor farmers” will have to go back to whatever vile things they used to do to keep from having to earn a living.

  2. Francois Tremblay

    What, you expect rabid statists to have a sane view on drugs?

  3. Rad Geek

    Francois,

    No.

    Bill:

    Then the poor farmers will have to go back to whatever vile things they used to do to keep from having to earn a living.

    What, like farming?

    The whole debate here is over whether the farmers involved should be left alone to farm a profitable crop that people want — opium poppies — or whether the U.S. and Iraqi governments should violently force them back into farming unprofitable crops — such as oranges, pomegranates, and rice — that most customers can get for cheaper from elsewhere. In either case, whether lucrative or hardscrabble, growing crops for the use of willing customers, or for your own use, is hard work, and certainly counts as earning a living through honest labor.

    In that respect it compares pretty well to what the troops and the narcs do with their time in that area, i.e., leeching off of tax dollars that are taken from the rest of us by force, and spending their time on the clock shoving harmless farmers around, poisoning their fields, and ruining their livelihoods, all so that absolutely everyone in the world can be forced to prop up the U.S. government’s domestic policy of narcotics prohibition, no matter what the human cost for people living in very different circumstances.

  4. Bill

    Honest labor? Farm a profitable crop? They’ll probably go back to selling their adolescent children to perverts like you!

  5. L.

    Wow, Bill, dial down the unwarranted personal attacks for a minute. Think about it: does advocating a less-militant drug policy really imply all that strongly that someone is into child rape? Or did you bump into Mr. Geek in a brothel in Bangkok and think, “Hey, that’s that guy from the internet who thinks opium farmers should be left alone! I’ll show him who has the moral high ground!”

    If your position has merit, you ought to be able to argue for it without recourse to the Super Secret Radgeek Sex Files of your imagination. And even if it doesn’t, there’s still something to be said for politeness.

  6. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-02-14 – Refuge of Oppression #5: Twofer Tuesday edition:

    […] hours of each other, on this past Tuesday. The first comes to us from Stasi [sic!] in reply to GT 2008-01-28: The tall poppies, part 3, my recent article on the spread of opium poppies as a cash crop for impoverished farmers in […]

Anticopyright. This was written in 2008 by Rad Geek. Feel free to reprint if you like it. This machine kills intellectual monopolists.