Sandwiched between Syria and Iran, Iraq sits uncomfortably at the centre of a regional drug-trafficking triangle facilitated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxies, which rely on the revenue to fund their activities.
With illicit drugs flowing into and through Iraq from both east and west, it has been taking steps to block this activity by fortifying its borders, officials said.
In southeastern Iraq, work is under way to construct an earthen berm and trench along the border with Iran along the course of the Shatt al-Arab river.
Construction began in June on the new fortifications, which intend to block the drug trafficking routes that smuggling networks use, official sources said.
As part of the same project, surveillance systems are being installed to track smugglers and tighten control over this stretch of the border, some of which runs along the river or in marsh areas, and is therefore challenging to monitor.
The decision to enhance the border fortifications was made in mid-February, in response to intelligence that pointed to a spike in drug smuggling activity, with accusations leveled at Iran and its proxy militias in Iraq.
Work is under way to construct the earthen berm along the southern stretch of the border with Iran where marshes are in abundance between Maysan and Basra provinces.
The berm is being constructed in the Hawizeh marshes area, Iraqi government spokesman Hassan Nazim said, with many border posts installed along it.
The main goal of the new border security effort is to "restrict the movements of drug traffickers and criminals between the two countries", he said.
The Iraqi Joint Operations Command is overseeing the construction of the berm, which will extend for more than 100km when it is completed.
The work is being carried out by the Ministry of Defence's Engineering Corps, in co-operation with the Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Oil, and the provincial governments of Basra and Maysan.
Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir al-Shammari, deputy commander of Iraq's Joint Operations Command, recently visited the area to inspect the progress of work.
In addition to the earthen berm, the new border fortification plan includes the installation of thermal cameras and control towers, as well as regular patrols to monitor the border areas around the clock.
Iraqi Centre for Strategic Studies director Ghazi Faisal Hussein told Al-Mashareq the government's effort to combat drug smuggling and organised crime is an important move.
Weak control over Iraq's borders and border crossings encourages "drug and contraband mafias" to continue their activities, he noted, accusing Iran and its proxies of providing these gangs with "security and support".
"Although suppliers use unconventional smuggling methods, many of them are arrested every day," he said, pointing to the June 4 interception of a microlight aircraft from Iran in Basra, en route to Kuwait, carrying a million Captagon pills.
Meanwhile, Iran is facilitating and providing cover to a burgeoning Captagon industry in Syria that is funneling drugs across the region for the benefit of the IRGC and its proxies, activists and experts said.
The illicit drug trafficking among Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran has created a "golden triangle" for the regional export of drugs, they noted.
In Syria, "Hizbullah, supported by the Syrian regime's Military Intelligence Division and the 4th Division, has set up several new sites for manufacturing Captagon", Daraa-based activist Jumaa al-Masalmeh told Al-Mashareq.
The 4th Division is led by Maher al-Assad, brother of the Syrian president.
"Several heavily guarded sites in different areas of Daraa and Sweida have been detected, and there is confirmed information that they contain large quantities of the raw material that is used in manufacturing [Captagon]," al-Masalmeh said.
Pills manufactured in Lebanon-Syria border area factories -- Deir Atiyah near the Qalamoun mountains, the rural Damascus towns of Asal al-Ward, Rankous, Qarah, and al-Qusayr in Homs -- also are stored at the new sites, he said.
"There also is a large factory in Homs, known as Medico, and another factory in rural Latakia known as al-Basa factory," he noted.
Iran-backed proxies in Syria co-operate with some local residents known for their involvement in "dealing in and smuggling drugs outside Syria", al-Masalemeh said, relying on their knowledge of the terrain.
This has helped the IRGC quickly establish an integrated system for the production and distribution of drugs, with the aim of reaping profits "as soon as possible", he said.
The IRGC provides cover to groups involved in the manufacture and sale of illicit drugs, Iranian affairs researcher Sheyar Turko said.
It seems that the IRGC is in the process of setting up a new "golden triangle" in the region comprising Lebanon, Iraq and Syria to flood the Middle East, he said.
The focus on establishing southern Syria as a drug production area shows that the "IRGC plans to expand its exports into neighbouring countries, such as Jordan and Iraq", said Syrian lawyer Bashir al-Bassam.
"The aim is to cover the largest possible area without having to move inside Syria, and to distribute operations between the old factories in al-Qusayr, al-Qalamoun and rural Damascus and the newly established factories," he added.
"Such areas supply exports via sea through Latakia, which is fully controlled by close allies of the 4th Division and other security agencies that are controlled by al-Assad family members," he said.
"This is in addition to supplying Lebanese ports via ground transport," he said, adding that this process "is made possible because Hizbullah controls most land crossings between Lebanon and Syria".
"As for the new factories, the plan is to use them to export the drugs to the Gulf via Jordan, Iraq and Iran if necessary," he said.
Depending on the area where they plan to export, this is done via drones or gliders which have recently become active, or via traditional ground routes, al-Bassam said.
On June 12, Jordan's Armed Forces said they had foiled an attempt to smuggle 900,000 Captagon pills and 154 palm-sized sheets of hashish from Syria into the kingdom.
On Wednesday (June 29), the Saudi General Directorate of Narcotics Control announced it had thwarted an attempt to smuggle more than 3.5 million amphetamine tablets in Jeddah. The tablets were found hidden in a shipment of stones and gardening supplies at Jeddah Islamic Port.