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 Illegal border trade with Iraqi Kurdistan revives life of Iranian Kurds

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Illegal border trade with Iraqi Kurdistan revives life of Iranian Kurds  3.7.2011  







July 3, 2011

BANEH, Iranian Kurdistan,— Kamal, Atta and Mohammad are Kurds in their mid-30s who live in Iran's western Kurdish city of Baneh near the border with Iraqi Kurdistan region.

As children, the three cousins lived through the terror of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and attacks by troops of Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein on their hometown, which turned Baneh into a battleground and one of the most deprived regions in the country.

They had no proper education and had to toil for low wages as cleaning men or construction workers in the capital Tehran, 650 kilometres away.

'That bastard (Saddam) made us suffer for so many years but God not only made him face humiliation but also made his death become a source of prosperity for us Kurds in Baneh,' Atta said.     

Illegal border trade with Iraqi Kurdistan revives life of Iranian Kurds. Photo: Mehr News Agency.

Following the 2003 US military invasion of Iraq and collapse of the Saddam regime, people in the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq were no longer oppressed and isolated. They soon found a way to turn their freedom into business opportunity with fellow Kurds in Iran.

The Iraqi Kurds began ordering goods from China, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates, shipped them to the southern Iraqi port of Basra and then on to the northern city of Sulaimaniyah and the hands of newly formed smuggler groups.

Those goods were then taken to Iran's Kurdistan, and turned the 70,000-population city of Baneh into a new shopping paradise.

Iranian authorities allow and even invite foreign reporters to the province to see the economic boom in Baneh, but do not allow them to see how the boom was actually made possible.

Yet the smugglers are proud to explain the procedures and, for a fee of 200 dollars, even show reporters how the goods are transferred into Iran.

'The Iraqi smugglers carry on their shoulders, each up to 150 kilograms, goods such as large-size LCD televisions and kitchen and computer equipment to the mountains on the Iranian side and deliver them to us at nighttimes when border guards have no view,' one Iranian smuggler said.

'We smuggle the goods from the border area to a safe place, put them onto trucks brought by the city smugglers to the shop owners in Baneh.'

The illegal border trade benefits both border and city smugglers as well as the merchants who sell them tax-free to customers while not paying any taxes to the government, either.

The main beneficiaries are the consumers who would have to pay between 25 to 50 per cent more for the mainly Chinese goods if bought in their own cities.

Police and border guards in Baneh are well aware of the illegal border trade and tax-free sales in the market but apparently prefer to swim in denial. According to the smugglers,
www.ekurd.netone reason is that some of them are on their payrolls.

'Another reason is that police and border guards definitely prefer to have Kurdish smugglers rather than Kurdish guerrillas,' Kamal said.

Kamal has gone from being a cleaner to a successful businessman with a new house, wife and two children. For him, the trade is an internal Kurdish affair related to neither Iraq nor Iran.

'Kurds are one big family, regardless where they live, and they help each other regardless of their nationality,' he said, referring to the almost 40 million Kurds worldwide, including 7 million in Iran and nearly the same number in Iraq.

The business boom from illegal border trade has also produced investment in the city's infrastructure, and at least two four-star hotels will be built in Baneh soon to receive the increasing flow of customers that is now estimated at thousands per day.

Kamal's cousins Atta and Mohammad, who coordinate trade routes from the border to the city, are now earning 10 times what they did before the smuggling boom began.

'May God bless the Americans for having invaded Iraq and killed Saddam, because this changed our lives drastically for the positive,' Atta said.

According to Mohammad, the illegal trade is also a blessing for newlywed couples who can afford to buy in Baneh what they need to start their married lives.

'My fiance and I intended to get married in six months because we had not enough money to buy the necessary goods but here in Baneh we did, saved up to 15 million rials (1,500 dollars), and we get married next month,' said Mohsen, who drove more than five hours from his hometown Tabriz to Baneh.

The Iranian economy has been stifled for several years by the international sanctions imposed on the country because of its uncompromising stance in the nuclear dispute. But the sanctions play no role for the Kurds in Baneh.

'Sanctions, what sanctions? How can sanctions affect in any way something which is and will remain totally illegal, and is just between Kurds and not any countries?' Kamal said.   
  

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