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Cyrus lies dead
On the killing fields of Iran's war on drugs

By Mahmoud Sadri & Ahmad Sadri
October 8, 2003
The Iranian

The email from Iran was terse. Kourosh, 19, the eldest son of our cousin Shahla passed away on Sunday, September 20, 2003. The immediate cause of his death, heart failure, masks the monstrous identity of his real killer: drug addiction. Like every tragedy, this one has a Janus face: unbearable singularity and surprising universality.

Shahla and her husband, a retired English teacher, lead a quiet life in a leafy suburb of the pilgrimage city of Mashad, near Iran's border with Afghanistan. The first decade of their marriage was fraught with discontent because of their inability to have a child. Only after much medication and prayer were the couple blessed with the birth of a son whom they named Cyrus, or Kourosh, after the legendary king. Two years later the couple had a second son and their happiness seemed complete.

The devoted parents spared no effort or expense in the education of Kourosh and Arash. Ever vigilant against "bad influences in the environment," Shahla would walk them to and from school, a habit that lasted through high school. Shahla dreaded the free flow of cheap and potent drugs as in Mashad heroine is cheaper than cigarettes.

Two years ago Cyrus graduated and went to a university far from home in a small and lawless town closer to the Afghan border. By all accounts it is there that he began using drugs. A year later he drew his last breath in his bedroom, with his emaciated head resting on his mother's lap.

Arash came back from the "front" to attend his brother's funeral. His army division has been assigned the difficult task of stemming the tide of drugs flowing through the porous Afghan border. Iran is the only country in the world in which the expression "War on Drugs" is not a euphemism, and Shahla has offered two sons to that war: Kourosh, as a victim and Arash as a warrior.

A quarter century of foreign occupation, civil war, and extremist rule in Afghanistan has caused not only a flood of destitute and traumatized Afghan refugees to cross into Iran but also a profusion of banditry and graft in Iranian peripheral towns, animated by drug money. Some 100,000 Iranian troops from the regular army, revolutionary guards, and militia are stationed at the borders between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

International experts have described the present state of affairs as a "low level war". In the course of the last decade Iranian troops have suffered 3,500 deaths in various operations against drug traffickers. In one southern province over 1,200 security officers have been killed in the relentless combat with the smugglers.

Outgunned and outspent by ruthless adversaries who travel in Toyota Land Cruisers and 4x4 pickups equipped with anti aircraft guns and "Stinger" missiles, Iranian security forces claim only modest gains. According to international agencies, Iran interdicts approximately 17 percent of the drugs that enter its territory, a quantity exceeding that seized by all other countries in the world combined. Afghanistan, according to a July 14 article in Newsweek magazine, produces 76% of the world's opium.

The Bush Administration once chastised the Taliban for its lax drug enforcement policies and falsely accused Iran of malicious neglect of drug smuggling. However, since the US entered Afghanistan it has "presided" over bumper crops of opium, including 4,000 tons, the second-largest harvest in memory.

America's anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan are limited to the stationing of two Drug Enforcement Administration agents in the country. Who can blame the pair for staying in Kabul and away from the dangerous Afghan drug lords that are considered more dangerous than their Colombian counterparts? In relative absence of interdiction, Afghan narcotics inundate Iran before crossing into Turkey and arriving in Western Europe and the United States.

Iran has around 1.2 million drug addicts, and 60 percent of all arrests in the country are drug related. The dire circumstances of the youths in Iran, suffering from double digit unemployment, scarcity of adequate educational and recreational facilities, and lack of basic freedoms exacerbate their hopelessness and increase the lure of the exceedingly cheap, potent, and deadly narcotics.

Meanwhile, Iran stands almost alone in its fight. America's ideologically driven neglect of its common cause with Iran in fighting drugs defies reason. There is some international recognition that Iran occupies the front line in the war against drugs, although the awareness has not translated into meaningful material and intelligence assistance.

In desperation, some Iranian officials are negotiating with the Russians to build a Soviet style barrier to control the flow of illicit drugs. It is clear though, that Iran, left to its own devices, will not be able to win the war.

So, Cyrus, a victim of the time and place of his birth as well as his own poor judgment lies in a fresh grave as his brother Arash spends sleepless nights in his observation post monitoring a rugged, desolate, and dangerous border. Shahla and her husband also stay up nights, grieving the loss of their elder son and praying for the safety of the younger one.

Meanwhile, locked in poses of childish recrimination, nations are unable to form an axis against the scourge of narcotics, the incarnation of the evil they try to perceive in each other.


Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri are twins. Mahmoud is Associate Professor of Sociology at Texas Women's University. He has a doctorate in sociology from New York's New School for Social Research (See Features . See Homepage). Ahmad is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lake Forest College, IL, USA. See Features . See Homepage.

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