Bandits not insurgents behind brazen robberies of ships on key Iraqi waterway, say officialsBy Sinan Salaheddin, AP
Monday, August 16, 2010
Bold Iraq ship heists by robbers say officials
BAGHDAD — Thieves and not insurgents were behind unusual robberies of four ships anchored off Iraq’s southern coast, Iraqi officials said Monday, insisting the heists do not pose a larger threat to commercial traffic in the strategic Persian Gulf waters.
The U.S. Navy said Sunday that gunmen armed with AK-47 rifles had boarded four commercial ships in a two-hour time span in the vicinity of an Iraqi oil terminal in the northern Persian Gulf on Aug. 8. The assailants took computers, cell phones and money from crew members before fleeing, according to Lt. John Fage, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.
The unusual heist raised concerns that insurgents — who are increasingly turning to crime to finance their terror missions — could threaten the waterway. But officials said there was no evidence al-Qaida or other groups were behind the ship robberies.
In Baghdad, militants have been implicated in a spate of major bank robberies and jewelry heists.
A spokesman for the Iraqi force protecting the country’s oil and gas facilities said the attack on the ships was an isolated incident, which doesn’t threaten the country’s infrastructure and trade routes in the Persian Gulf.
“The situation is under control and we don’t believe that there will be (further) … activities that threaten trade,” said the spokesman, Ammar al-Mousawi. “We are not concerned about the incident down in Basra as our forces are deployed in the area.”
The vessels that came under attack were identified as the American ship Sagamore, the Antigua-flagged Armenia, the North Korean Crystal Wave and the Syrian Sana Star.
The seaborne robbery — which occurred about 20 miles (32 kilometers) off the port of Umm Qasr in an area patrolled jointly by the U.S. and Iraqi navies — raised concern about a new threat in the strategic region.
American vessels in the area for routine security operations, including a guided missile destroyer, responded to the attacks, Fage said.
A Basra-based intelligence officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, said the interrogation of two Iraqis arrested after the incident indicated it was a robbery attempt without a larger agenda.
The officer said the detainees had confessed to conducting the robberies in coordination with four other men who remained at large but were not part of a bigger gang.
Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, which is located near Umm Qasr, has been relatively quiet since a 2008 military crackdown that ended three years of Shiite militia rule, rampant crime and turmoil. The area and the surrounding province contain about 70 percent of Iraq’s proven oil reserves of 115 billion barrels.
Insurgents have warned they would step up attacks ahead of U.S. plans to end its combat mission by September, a step toward a deadline for a full military withdrawal by the end of next year.
The drawdown to bring the number of American soldiers in Iraq to 50,000 by the end of the month continues, despite the country’s political impasse following the March 7 parliament elections, which produced no clear winner.
In a sign of growing frustration over the lack of any political compromise five months after former prime minister Ayad Allawi narrowly defeated Iraq’s current leader, Nouri al-Maliki, four activist groups said Monday they had filed a lawsuit against former parliament speaker Fouad Massoum.
The groups accuse Massoum of violating the constitution by ruling that the newly elected parliament, which convened June 14, would remain in an open-ended session until a political agreement is reached. The decision has perpetuated the political stalemate by delaying key steps the lawmakers were required to make, such as choosing a new president and speaker, the suit charges.
Massoum acknowledged the constitution has been violated, but told The Associated Press he will defend his decision in court. The lawsuit was filed Aug. 9 with Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court by groups that include women’s and workers’ rights organizations.
Associated Press Writer Hammed Ahmed contributed to this report.
Tags: Baghdad, Iraq, Middle East, Ml-iraq, North America, Parliamentary Elections, Political Activism, Political Issues, Theft, United States