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 Iraqi Kurdish Smuggling To Iran

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Iraqi Kurdish Smuggling To Iran  2.3.2012 
By Joel Wing 

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Kurdish smugglers - January 2012. Photo: Reuters

Iraqi Kurdish Alcohol smugglers - January 2012. Photo: Reuters

Kurdish smugglers - January 2012. Photo: Reuters
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March 2, 2012

SULAIMANIYAH, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — For centuries there has been smuggling all along the Iran-Iraq border. In Kurdistan, small groups of smugglers in Sulaimaniyah regularly cross back and forth between the two countries.

These are very small operations involving products prohibited in Iran like alcohol, but also consumer goods, and even clothes. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is unofficially involved in such operations, illegally selling oil and refined products to Iran since the 1990s.

This became a huge controversy in the summer of 2010 as reporters suddenly decided to go to border crossing points in Kurdistan and found hundreds of trucks lined up to bring Kurdish oil to Iran. The media coverage however did not stop these operations, as there are still reports about it going on to this day.

On February 17, 2012 for example, Iraq’s Azzaman paper quoted a member of the energy committee in parliament who claimed that $20 million worth of oil was being trucked into Iran each day from Kurdistan. The legislator said this was mostly the work of smuggling rings that operated in both southern and northern Iraq, who had the implicit support of local officials.

For the small operators, this is simply a way to earn money as they often live in more rural areas of the country where etching out a living is sometimes rough. For the KRG, it is a way to earn extra money that does not come from the central government, allowing the region, some limited autonomy with its funds. For the larger organized crime rings, this is something they have been doing for the last twenty years, and offers them large profits as the Iraqi oil industry is badly regulated making it easy to skim off and steal crude to be sold in places like Iran.


Davies, Rhodri, “Tanker trucks line up on North Iraq-Iran border,” Al Jazeera Blogs, 2/4/11
Jawad, Laith, “Minister says smuggling of Iraqi oil goes on unabated,” Azzaman, 12/17/11
Kadhem, Adel, “$20 million worth of southern Iraqi oil are smuggled via Kurdish region,” Azzaman, 2/17/12
Natali, Denise, “Iraq’s flaws are losing it oil wealth,” Daily Star, 3/11/11
Reuters, “SPECIAL REPORT – Risk, reward and Kurdistani oil,” 3/10/11
Saadi, Salam and Ahmed, Hevidar, “Hussein Shahristani: Connecting Kurdistan to Nabucco Pipeline Out of the Question,” Rudaw, 5/24/11
El-Tablawy, Tarek and Barzanji, Yahya, “Oil smuggling to Iran embarrassment for Iraq,” Associated Press, 7/13/10
Al-Wannan, Jaafar, “Erbil exports 75,000 barrels of oil illegally,” AK News, 12/17/11
Pictures of smugglers in Sulaymaniya preparing to take alcohol into Iran, January 2012

Joel Wing, with an MA in International Relations, Joel Wing has been researching and writing about Iraq since 2002. His acclaimed blog, Musings on Iraq, is currently listed by the New York Times and the World Politics Review. In addition, Mr. Wing’s work has been cited by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Guardian and the Washington Independent. You may visit his Blog Musings On Iraq at

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