Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Iranian Booze Smuggling

With Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad increasingly clamping down on Iranian society, banning everything from Western music to free speech, centuries-old smuggling lifelines are flourishing. And the most sought-after commodities are beer, wine, and whiskey. On treacherous, rocky trails, smugglers' pack mules laden with hooch cross the Zagros Mountains bordering Iraq and Iran every night. Demand has never been better as bootleggers brave the driving rain, landmines and Iranian border guards to smuggle liquor to Iran.

Liquor Smuggling to Iran
Liquor smuggler outside the Iraqi border town of Penjuen
(Photo - Matthew Gutman)

Although liquor is frowned upon in Iraq, it's cheap, legal, and untaxed. In Iran, it's illegal and expensive. As a result, bootleggers are selling alcohol for at least five times the cost. Heineken, Amstel, and cheap whiskey are very popular.

From the
Alcohol is also the most profitable bootleg item, explained Muhammad and several other booze-brokers interviewed in this half-deserted border town of bootleggers and security agents.

A sniper's rifle, an AK-47 and magazine clips droop from the walls of the hut-like artwork. Muhammad, an ethnic Kurd and a Peshmerga, or a Kurdish militiaman, said the weapons are for fighting Ansar al-Islam, an antigovernment Kurdish Islamic terrorist group. A bribe of a few dollars - which he called "tips" - and a clever mule are the best defenses against Iranian border guards, he explained.
Hmmm ... a clever mule outwits Iranian Border guards? And, all the while, Iran is enriching uranium. I get the willies just thinking about it.

Alcohol is not the only commodity smuggled. Anything from tea to washing machines is carried into Iran, usually after paying a small bribe to border guards. Conversely, Iranians travel the same routes into Iraq on day trips, touring bootleggers' camps in a manner not dissimilar from Americans visiting Napa Valley wineries. Distilled and fermented intoxicants are very popular with many Iranians, even the clerics, and the entrenched black market is an indication of the general population's dissatisfaction with the government.
"Iran is a good country, but we have a very bad government. We have no freedom, no satellite TV, no justice," said Ali Reza Dodelband, 42. Shivering in a jeans-jacket, he stood just feet from the official border crossing, gathering a crew of stout porters to carry about three tons of tea across the border.

He would like to move from Iran to Iraq, "then I want [US President George W. Bush] to bomb Iran. Tell Bush he must bomb the -," Dodelband then pantomimes the wrapping of a turban over his combover, referring to Iran's clerics.

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