Naval coalition renews effort to halt Iraqi oil smuggling

Monday, July 29, 2002

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- After an eight-year break, a U.S.-led naval coalition is resuming inspection of vessels in the northern Red Sea because U.N. sanctions against Iraq are being broken in the area, a U.S. Navy spokesman said Sunday.

The decision is opposed by Jordan, which is Iraq's largest trading partner and a key American ally in the Mideast and which complained in the past that the monitoring hindered its trade.

Lt. Chris Davis, a spokes-man with the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, refused to elaborate on the nature of the "sanctions-busting."

Coalition forces in the Persian Gulf region long have been trying to prevent Iraqi oil smuggling and stop Iraq-bound cargo ships, except those carrying approved food, medical supplies or humanitarian items.

"There was sufficient evidence for us to believe that we should expand our interception operation to the northern Red Sea," Davis said.

A British warship was assigned on July 9 to monitor vessels outside Jordan's lone sea port at Aqaba, on the Red Sea, Davis said. Fifth Fleet commanders would not confirm if the ship had arrived.

A Jordanian Cabinet official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Jordan has not been informed of any U.S. decision to expand the monitoring operation to just offshore.

However, Jordan would oppose such measures because it already adheres to the letter and spirit of U.N. sanctions on Iraq, he said.

Those strict sanctions were imposed following Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which led to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The sanctions later were adjusted to allow Baghdad to sell unlimited quantities of crude oil to buy humanitarian goods.

Baghdad, however, is barred from importing military-related items.

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