Iraqi security forces have seized a factory being used to produce Captagon pills, the Interior Ministry has said, the first such discovery in a country plagued by unprecedented levels of drug trafficking and consumption.
The site was found in Al Muthana province, about 300 kilometres south of Baghdad, that borders Saudi Arabia, the ministry said.
"Today, and maybe for the first time, a factory where Captagon is produced was found," Interior Ministry spokesman General Saad Maan said in a video posted online.
“This operation has two indications: the first it is a qualitative leap for the intelligence efforts and second is the bid by some to launch [Captagon] production inside the country.”
Mr Maan described the efforts to eliminate drugs as Iraq’s “real war, which is seeing positive results in seizing big quantities of different kinds”.
The ministry did not announce if there were arrests but said the site contained machines capable of producing Captagon pills, as well as 27.5 kilograms of raw material.
On Friday, Iraqi security forces said they had dismantled the "most dangerous international drug trafficking ring" and arrested three of its members in Muthana province. Two million Captagon pills were also seized.
For decades, Iraq was considered a vital corridor for the smuggling of drugs to neighbouring countries. But after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, drug use in the country has greatly increased.
A succession of weak governments, widespread corruption among security forces and a lack of co-operation between government agencies and high unemployment are the main reasons behind drugs proliferation.
Captagon has become the second most widely used drug in the country, according to the Health Ministry, overtaking tramadol, heroin and hashish in popularity and lagging behind only crystal methamphetamine, the use of which has skyrocketed in southern Iraq.
Iran is said to be the main source of crystal methamphetamine found in Iraq, while Syria is the source of most of the Captagon, Iraqi officials have said. Lebanon, which is also going through a spike in poverty amid a sharp economic decline, is also a source.
Combating drug trafficking was among the top issues Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani discussed with the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad during an official visit to Damascus on Sunday.
Both leaders described drugs as one of the main challenges their countries face, saying they will enhance co-operation on this front.
The US and the EU claim that Syrian government officials are directly involved in the Captagon trade, and the European bloc has sanctioned several in connection with drug smuggling. The Syrian government has dismissed the allegations as "lies".
Syria said at an Arab foreign ministers meeting in May that it was ready to "strengthen co-operation" with Jordan and Iraq, "affected by drug-trafficking and smuggling across the Syrian border".
Areas in central and southern Iraq bordering Iran have become major narcotic trafficking routes for drugs, including crystal methamphetamine.
In November, Iraqi security forces announced the arrest of a man producing "large quantities of crystal meth" in Iraq, who had acquired his drug production experience while living abroad.