MANAMA, Bahrain — Skirting the shoals of Iran's Persian Gulf coast, tankers are smuggling tens of thousands of tons of fuel oil out of Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions, a U.S. admiral said Tuesday.
The embargo breakers and their Iranian protectors have had two confrontations with the Navy in the last two weeks, ramming a U.S. frigate in one showdown that wasn't publicized.
"Our indications are that this is a rather sophisticated effort, centrally controlled within Iran," Vice Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, said at his Bahrain headquarters.
The "Iran connection" is one visible sign of cooperation between the two former enemies in trying to foil American efforts to enforce U.N. trade sanctions against Iraq.
But the main motive is money. Iraq, desperate to circumvent the embargo, will sell the oil cheap, and a 2,000-ton shipment of oil can net $150,000, Fargo estimated.
Crews of intercepted vessels tell investigators that Iranian authorities are taking a cut of the profits.
The U.N. sanctions were imposed in 1990 to punish Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait.