Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iran Bends Its Ways to Fight Drugs ; Britain Helps with Night-Vision Goggles, by Easing a Ban on Military Equipment

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iran Bends Its Ways to Fight Drugs ; Britain Helps with Night-Vision Goggles, by Easing a Ban on Military Equipment

Article excerpt

The unsuspecting Iranian airline passenger sends his luggage through an X-ray machine at the Tehran airport, only to have a drug- sniffing Alsatian wrestle his briefcase to the floor on the other side.

"C'mon, we're Muslims," the man complains with disgust, as the dog slobbers excitedly over the leather case. "Look what this dog is doing to my bag!"

Iran sits on a major throughway between what is now the world's No. 1 opium-producing nation, Afghanistan, and the markets of Europe. Iranian security forces clashed with narcotics smugglers nearly 1,500 times this past year. And the new use of drug-sniffing dogs, which are considered unclean by Muslims, is an indication of how seriously officials here take the drug war.

Iran's ruling clerics recently took the unprecedented step of issuing a fatwa, a religious edict, approving the use of dogs.

"Do you want to see the fatwa?" the uniformed dog handler asks the unsettled passenger. The man grabs his brief case and leaves. But several bags later, Hans, one of five dogs donated by the French government late last year, pounces on another bag. The face of its owner droops, as guards pull him aside and find a stash of opium.

The fatwa on dogs is one of several surprising steps taken by Iran - and matched by European donors, who have also provided bullet- proof vests - to stop the flow of drugs from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, which last year doubled its poppy crop.

That, in turn, has made Iran the world leader in drug seizures, with the confiscation of 253 tons of narcotics last year. The 6 tons of heroin seized alone is equal to the entire annual street consumption of Britain and Italy.

Iran has demonstrated its commitment to stopping the flow - in both cash spent and lives of law-enforcement officers lost.

"Iran is extremely serious, but the extent of the problem is overwhelming them," says Neil Crompton, the deputy head of the British Embassy in Tehran.

So far, Britain has donated $2.5 million to Iran's drug- enforcement program, most of it through the UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP). The funds have been spent on, among other things, 1,000 bullet-proof vests and 170 sets of night-vision goggles, which - because of prohibitions on selling military equipment to Iran - required approval from the British Parliament.

"There has been a tangible change in the last six months, as people saw how serious the problem was," says Mr. Crompton. "These are not skirmishes - the [Iranians] are up against better armed forces, so we have asked other donors to keep an open mind about their needs.

"It's a big step for the Iranians too," he adds. "They have not cooperated with the outside world that much."

Some analysts suggest that if the US wanted to "break the ice" after its two-decade estrangement with Tehran - despite US accusations that Iran is a state-sponsor of terrorism - it could support the antidrug effort. …

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