BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi on Saturday declared the end of military operations against Daesh and the liberation of all Iraqi territory formerly held by it.
“Your land has been completely liberated, and your raped cities and villages have returned to the homeland, and the dream of liberation has become a reality,” he said in a broadcast address to the Iraqi people.
“We have accomplished the difficult mission in hard circumstances, and we have won with the help of God, the steadfastness of our people and the bravery of our armed forces,” he added.
“We declare to our people and to all the world that the our heroes arrived at the last Daesh stronghold, liberated it and raised the flag of Iraq over the western parts of Anbar (province).”
Abadi said Sunday would be a national holiday to celebrate “Victory Day.”
Vast swathes of northern and western Iraq fell to Daesh in June 2014. Since then, Iraqi security forces, backed by Shiite-dominated paramilitary groups and the US-led coalition, have fought to liberate those lands.
Tens of thousands of civilians and security personnel were killed, and more than 5 million people displaced, during the war, with an estimated $100 billion worth of destruction to infrastructure and private property.
Al-Jazeera, the vast desert between Anbar in the west and Nineveh province in the north, which stretches along the border with Syria, was Daesh’s last stronghold in Iraq.
Abadi’s announcement came after Special Forces Gen. Abdul-Ameer Yar Allah, commander of operations in Al-Jazeera and the Upper Euphrates, said his troops had completed their mission by liberating the desert area and taking control of the 183-km-long border with Syria.
The end of the war leaves Iraq facing many challenges, particularly corruption, against which Abadi launched a campaign last month.
“Combating corruption in Iraq is much harder than combating Daesh,” Rahman Al-Jobouri, a political analyst based in the US, told Arab News.
“Abadi needs time and political will. He doesn’t have much time until the elections, and the political will isn’t available.”
Recent busts have included cash, cannabis and Captagon
Tech-savvy criminals play cat-and mouse with tech-savvy criminals
Updated 22 August 2019
DUBAI: Bulk cash couriers, narcotics mules, counterfeit goods, wildlife trafficking — spotting smugglers is all part of a day’s work for customs officials and law enforcement professionals in the Gulf.
Experts say that illegal trafficking in all its guises is bringing in billions each year for criminals worldwide, and the problem is increasing across the globe and the region.
In Saudi Arabia this week alone, officials arrested four passengers attempting to smuggle SR3.1 million ($830,000) in cash out of Madinah’s airport, while Saudi Arabian Border Guards intercepted two boats carrying large quantities of cannabis into the Kingdom. In a third bust, Saudi customs thwarted two attempts to bring more than 2.5 million Captagon (amphetamine) pills hidden in two vehicles into the Kingdom via a port.
Adel Hamaizia, a research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at the think tank Chatham House, told Arab News that money laundering, or cash smuggling, is a major trafficking problem for the Kingdom and wider GCC.
“One of the methods aiding capital flight in the GCC is old-school smuggling of cash as well as precious metals,” he said.
But trafficking of drugs, fuel and even wildlife are also adding to pressures facing customs officials.
“Cross-border fuel smuggling from Saudi Arabia into its neighbors has remained an enduring feature. However, energy pricing reforms in the Kingdom in recent years have stifled smugglers’ margins if not canceled them out altogether,” said Hamaizia. “When it comes to drugs, countries of the GCC serve as consumption destinations and transit hubs, but not production spaces.”
Many countries in the region serve as transit hubs for drug smuggling as a result of geography, infrastructure, porous borders and lengthy coastlines, he said.
“Drugs smuggled into GCC states include qat, opium, cannabis, and Captagon (the family of drugs known as amphetamines). Captagon is one of the major drugs smuggled from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt.
“Wildlife smuggling such as houbara birds, pangolins, ivory, rhinoceros horns and others are also common across Gulf states. Doha serves as transit hubs for birds, mammals, ivory, and reptiles being transported between Africa and Asia.”
The Gulf is a transit point for trade passing through the region, so any and all types of illicit goods are smuggled.
Channing Mavrellis, of the think tank Global Financial Integrity, which works to curtail trade-related illicit financial flows, also highlighted the growing threat smugglers pose in the GCC. “The Gulf is a transit point for trade passing through the region, so any and all types of illicit goods are smuggled,” he said.
Experts say smuggling tactics are becoming increasingly sophisticated. “The methods used depend largely on the type of good being smuggled, its quantity and the level of risk/enforcement,” said Mavrellis. “For bulk cash smuggling or drug trafficking in smaller quantities, someone may simply conceal the illicit goods on their body or in their luggage. For larger quantities, smugglers may conceal the goods in a shipment of legitimate goods.”
However, Hamaizia warned that criminals are adopting new high-tech tactics. “The smuggling of lightweight drugs is now often supported by drones,” he said.
Smugglers are also turning to social media. In a report — Social Media and Drug Smuggling — published in journals earlier this year, authors noted the trend, saying: “Social media can be used for legal or illegal purposes by many individuals. Some may use these applications for drug smuggling. For example, Saudi Arabia Directorate General of Narcotics Control has arrested eight individuals for drug smuggling through social media.”
According to customs law jointly adopted by GCC countries, illegal transportation of goods can carry a jail term of up to 15 years.
Meanwhile, many criminals are attempting to take advantage of the busy transit routes in the region.
Hamaizia said: “Traffickers and smugglers often opt for busier international airports where they may benefit from sloppier screening. Smugglers also focus on connecting flights, where screening is rushed and even non-existent in some cases.”
At Dubai International Airport, one of the region’s busiest hubs, authorities caught more than 1,000 people attempting to smuggle illegal goods into the UAE last year, with officials employing a wealth of new technologies.
These include the Ionscan 500 DT, which can detect a wide range of military, commercial and homemade explosives as well as common illegal drugs, and the Thermo FirstDefender, a handheld device used to identify unknown solids or liquid chemicals.
Mavrellis said the challenge at busy transit routes was to search and question travelers while keeping operations running smoothly.
“High volumes of international trade can make detecting smuggling difficult as customs agencies must strike a balance between trade facilitation and enforcement. Basically, it is the problem of finding a needle in a haystack — but without taking too much time,” he said.