Iran-Iraq ‘Tanker War’ in Gulf Has Struck 200 Ships Since 1984
Here are some facts and figures on the Iran-Iraq War and recent attacks in the Persian Gulf:
THE ARENA--The Persian Gulf is about 600 miles long, stretching from the Shatt al Arab estuary along the border between Iran and Iraq in the north to the narrow Strait of Hormuz to the southeast. Rimmed by rich oil fields, it is a busy commercial thoroughfare for ships carrying oil and other cargo. It is about 150 miles wide in the area where the U.S. frigate Stark was operating when it was attacked.
THE CONFLICT--The Iran-Iraq War started in September, 1980, when Iraq sent its troops across the border, and it continues to the present. Casualties have been estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Authoritative information on the war is rarely available because independent observers are usually not permitted near the war zone.
ATTACKS ON SHIPS--More than 200 commercial ships from various nations have been hit by Iranian and Iraqi attacks during the so-called tanker war in the Persian Gulf, which started in 1984 as an offshoot of the land war. About 120 sailors have been killed in the incidents.
The attack on the Stark was the deadliest single gulf strike. The largest previous toll was 10 sailors, killed in an Iranian attack on Oct. 17, 1986, on the Panamanian-registered tanker Five Brooks.
In an effort to cripple Iran’s oil-dependent economy, Iraq has declared an “exclusion zone” for shipping around the Iranian oil port at Kharg Island in the northern sector of the gulf. However, Iraqi planes have also ranged far south, near the Strait of Hormuz, to attack Iranian oil terminals.
Iran retaliated, and it has threatened to make the entire Persian Gulf unsafe for commercial shipping if the Iraqi attacks continue.
SUPERPOWER ROLE--Both the Soviet Union and the United States have moved warships into the Persian Gulf area in an effort to protect shipping. The Stark was one of about five American warships regularly assigned to a naval task force for that purpose. Iranian attacks on Kuwaiti vessels have prompted Kuwait to consider shipping some oil in vessels flying Soviet or American flags. The United States is officially neutral in the war.