Iraq was prevented from loading oil at its pipeline terminal on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia on Monday, avoiding possible confrontation with a growing international warship fleet assembled to intercept Iraqi shipments.
At the same time, food shortages already were being reported as the reins tightened on a worldwide trade ban.
Diplomatic and oil industry sources said Saudi Arabia appeared to have prevented the 155,000-ton Iraqi tanker Qadisiyah from docking overnight at the port of Muajjiz and taking on oil. The action effectively closed Iraq's last major outlet for shipping its oil to market.
"Our understanding is they have closed the pipeline, but they will make no announcement," said a Jidda, Saudi Arabia, oil company official, alluding to Saudi Arabia's reluctance to provoke hostilities at a time when an estimated 120,000 Iraqi soldiers are positioned near its border with Kuwait.
"Did the Saudis make a decision not to allow it to be loaded? I think actions speak louder than words. It wasn't loaded," one diplomatic source said. "What the Iraqis were doing was trying to get some of their own oil out. The U.S. would take a very dim view of that being allowed to occur, and I think the Saudis probably share that view."
The U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Eisenhower and its accompanying fleet is believed to be near the Muajjiz port.
The tanker's arrival at the terminal, south of the Saudi industrial city of Yanbu, was seen as the first major test of economic sanctions adopted by the U.N. Security Council after Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion and subsequent annexation of neighboring Kuwait.
U.S. officials said diplomats in Baghdad are already reporting food shortages in the Iraqi capital, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein over the weekend exhorted his people to cut down on their food consumption in an effort to outlast the international embargo.
From his vacation retreat in Maine, President Bush has said food will be among the commodities encompassed in the trade embargo. "Everything. Everything," he told reporters.
U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III has said the United States is determined to enforce the embargo by shipping interdictions if necessary. Britain and Australia announced Monday that they will join the interception effort, committing ships to a growing armada in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
"If there is evidence of sanctions busting, the navy will take the necessary steps," British Foreign Office Minister William Waldegrave told reporters in London.
France, until recently Iraq's biggest Western arms supplier, announced it is sending an aircraft carrier to reinforce its fleet in the Persian Gulf, but a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Paris said "no political decision" has been made to join the U.S. embargo enforcement fleet. One "informed source" told the Associated Press that France is reluctant to become a "co-belligerent" in a blockade, which the source described as "an act of war."
Shipping monitors in the gulf told news agencies in Bahrain that the Iraqi tanker was unable to dock at Muajjiz because no Saudi tugboats were dispatched to haul it into port.
"Can I come in? Can I come in?" the Iraqi captain called to the shipping agent by radio, according to the news service accounts.
"No, you cannot. They will probably not let you in," the agent replied.
An oil industry official in Saudi Arabia said it is believed that the tanker withdrew from the port but remained near Yanbu. Some industry officials speculated that the vessel might attempt to return to the terminal. A Saudi government spokesman declined comment on the incident.
About a third of Iraq's oil is normally shipped through the 979-mile pipeline in Saudi Arabia. However, the pipeline's 900,000-barrel-a-day flow had been significantly cut back recently as the storage tanks at Muajjiz neared capacity and other ships refused to load the oil for market.
Two tankers, Norwegian and Indian, had been scheduled to load Iraqi oil this week, but neither showed up, and in fact, no oil has been loaded at the Muajjiz terminal since the invasion. The oil to be loaded on the Qadisiyah would have been bound for Morocco.
In Portugal, an Iraqi oil tanker began heading back for international waters after government officials prevented it from entering a Lisbon repair yard. The government said that allowing the repairs to be completed would violate a European Community embargo on commercial exchanges with Iraq.
Iraq's other major pipeline outlet, through southeastern Turkey, was cut off last week when Turkish officials announced they would no longer permit oil to be loaded from its terminus at the Mediterranean oil terminal of Ceyhan.
A third, less-used Iraqi pipeline, still believed to be operating normally, terminates in the desert 30 miles southeast of Amman, Jordan, where the oil is loaded on tanker trucks destined for the Red Sea port of Aqaba for export.
U.S. Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.), visiting Amman on Monday, said one of the United States' "overriding interests" in the region is to secure Jordan's cooperation in the international sanctions. Jordanian officials have said that they intend to comply with the mandatory U.N. sanctions but that it is still "premature" to decide what sanctions will be imposed.
The small monarchy, perched precariously between Israel and Iraq and heavily dependent on Iraq for financial and military aid, is one of a sizable bloc of Arab countries that refused to support a strong Arab League resolution condemning the invasion of Kuwait. The resolution also implicitly supported the dispatch of U.S. forces to Saudi Arabia and endorsed the deployment of a pan-Arab force to aid in Saudi Arabia's defense.
Over the last few days, tens of thousands of people in Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, Algeria, Somalia, Sudan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank have turned out at demonstrations protesting the U.S. intervention.
Yemen's foreign minister, Abdul-Karim Iryani, told reporters that the divisiveness evident at the Arab League's deliberations at its emergency summit meeting Friday in Cairo has led to "the end of Arab groupings, and perhaps the end of the Arab League." A total of 12 Arab nations, led by Egypt as host of the meeting, voted for the resolution.
On Monday, Saddam Hussein continued what regional political analysts said was an apparent attempt to undercut the moderate regimes of the Middle East, launching a "Voice of Arab Egypt" radio service calling for an uprising against the government of President Hosni Mubarak and attacks on "imperialist" targets.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz called for a review of the Arab League's decision to relocate its headquarters from Tunis to Cairo, complaining that Mubarak was biased in the way he ran the summit meeting.
Egypt was the first Arab nation to dispatch several thousand troops to a multinational defense force in Saudi Arabia, joining what some reports said would eventually be a 50,000-strong U.S. force now being deployed near the Kuwaiti border. On Monday, Pakistan said it would join the force.
A pool of U.S. reporters got their first glimpse Monday of the U.S. deployment in Saudi Arabia, where planes loaded with U.S. troops and equipment are landing every 10 minutes.
Maj. Gen. Don L. Kaufman, chief of the U.S. military training mission in Saudi Arabia, told the pool reporters that he believes the Saudis were surprised by the size of the U.S. commitment.
"They are finding that we are not going to allow a handful of Americans to be in harm's way. The numbers are larger, I think, than the Saudis originally anticipated," Kaufman said.
Dozens of military transport planes, vehicles and equipment have already arrived at bases throughout the Saudi kingdom and are moving on to various positions in the field, he added.
One of the soldiers interviewed by the pool reporters, a 27-year-old sergeant from Ft. Bragg, N.C., said he had been told to be prepared to remain four to six months in the Middle East.
When he learned he would be among the troops sent, he said he had telephoned his wife. "I told her I might be called on, and if I go, just pray we all get out of here safe," said the sergeant, who could not be identified under the rules of the pool report.
He had a gas mask attached to his belt. "Yes, it's scary," he said. "You have to build up the courage and put the fear aside and do what you have to do."