The dismantling of a Captagon factory on July 16 in the southern province of al-Muthanna -- the first of its kind in Iraq -- comes as Iraqi security forces conduct a wider crackdown on drug trafficking gangs, officials said.
It comes amid heightened efforts to contain the spread of illicit drugs and prevent Iraq from being used as a transit point to other countries in the region.
Iraqi authorities said they had never before found laboratories that produce illicit drugs, which are usually smuggled into Iraq from Iran and Syria.
Initially, they said, some manufacturing equipment was seized in Baghdad.
Through intelligence efforts, the rest was tracked down and the factory was discovered in a house in a rural area near the al-Muthanna provincial capital of Samawah.
The factory contained an estimated 27kg of raw materials used in the manufacture of Captagon pills, in addition to "special seals", Ministry of Interior officials said.
A joint force from the ministry's General Directorate for Narcotics Affairs and the Rapid Response Unit carried out the security operation that resulted in the seizure of the factory, ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Saad Maan said.
The find is unusual as most illicit drugs are smuggled into Iraq rather than being produced inside the country, he told Al-Mashareq.
"There are those who want to turn Iraq into a country that manufactures drugs, and not just serve as a transit point for them," Maan said.
War on drugs
Maan said the seizure "is an important indication that the security forces are fully alert to the intentions of gangs and drug traffickers and do great intelligence work in tracking, uncovering and thwarting their plans".
Maan and other officials from the General Directorate for Narcotics Affairs can be seen at the drug factory in a video posted to his social media accounts that shows bags filled with pills, raw materials and a primitive tablet press machine.
"We are waging a war on drugs, and we have been able to target drug traffickers thanks to the tremendous work of the intelligence, security and judicial services," Maan said.
"We've had recent successful campaigns that resulted in dismantling several networks specialised in trafficking in narcotics and psychotropic substances, the most dangerous of which are crystal meth and Captagon," he added.
Two days before the factory seizure, the anti-narcotics authorities announced the arrest of three individuals who were members of the "most dangerous international drug trafficking network" in al-Muthanna province.
They seized two million Captagon pills from the three.
The vast majority of the region's Captagon is produced in Syria and Lebanon and smuggled to its main consumer market in the Gulf through Iraq's western border.
Crystal meth and some types of drugs, such as hashish and opium, also enter through unmonitored crossings on the southeastern border with Iran.
Reports accuse groups linked to Iran of directing the work of smuggling networks and supervising the manufacture and smuggling of drugs.
They also accuse them of using their influence to protect this illegal trade, because of the huge revenues it generates, which are used to purchase weapons and finance Iran's activities in the Middle East.
'Terrorism of another kind'
Iraqi security forces' efforts are now focused on defeating illegal drugs, security expert Fadel Abu Ragheef told Al-Mashareq, describing the drug trade as "terrorism of another kind".
Intensive efforts and campaigns are being waged against the sources of drugs, in order to contain their spread and prevent Iraq from being used as a transit point to other countries in the region, he said.
Uncovering the drug factory in al-Muthanna is part of Iraq's intelligence-based security push in the fight against drugs that involves all its security agencies, he said.
In the past eight months, Iraqi forces have arrested about 10,000 individuals accused of drug trafficking and smuggling during operations in Baghdad, Basra, Maysan other areas, according to official statistics.
Between January and the end of June, a total about 600kg of illicit narcitics have been seized -- mostly crystal meth, hashish and Captagon.
The quantities of narcotics seized in the first half of this year are greater than those seized in the past two years, General Directorate for Narcotics Affairs spokesman Hussein al-Tamimi told the Iraqi News Agency (INA) on July 16.
The seizures are reflective of "an increase in the crackdown on drug crimes in the country", he said, as well as the result of shifting the anti-drug action plan from "police work to intelligence work".
It is also the result of the formation of a team to track drug networks in co-ordination with other intelligence security services, including the Falcons intelligence cell, he said.