BAGHDAD - Farmers in southern Iraq have started for the first time to grow opium poppies in their fields, sparking fears that Iraq might become a serious drugs producer along the lines of Afghanistan.
Rice farmers in the fertile plain along the Euphrates, just to the west of Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad, have stopped cultivating rice and are instead planting poppies, Iraqi sources familiar with the area say.
The shift to opium cultivation is still in its early stages but there is little the Iraqi Government can do about it because rival Shiite militias and their surrogates in the security forces control Diwaniyah. There have been clashes between militias, police, Iraqi Army and US forces in the city over the last two months.
The shift to opium production is taking place in the well-irrigated land west and south of Diwaniyah around the towns of Ash Shamiyah, al Ghammas and Ash-Shinafiyah. The farmers are said to be having problems in growing the poppies because of the intense heat and high humidity.
It is too dangerous for foreign journalists to visit Diwaniyah but the start of opium poppy cultivation is attested by two students from there and a source in Basra familiar with the Iraqi drugs trade.