Tanker War 1984-1988

Part of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the Tanker War attracted much international interest and some US intervention. With Iran blocking Iraqi exports of oil via the Shatt-al-Arab waterway the war against Iran was turning against the Iraqis. Syria closed Iraq's pipeline to the Mediterranean and it looked like economics would straggle the Iraqi war effort. Despite the unpopularity of Iraq's government the other Arab states feared the fundamentalism of Iran much more and came to Iraq's rescue. Jordan opened Aqaba to Iraqi imports (mainly weapons) and new pipelines were constructed across the desert to the Red Sea and to Turkey. Iraqi exports went through Kuwait also and the Arab states also directly funded Iraq to the sum of about $60 billion.

The Tanker War started properly in 1984 when Iraq attacked Iranian tankers and the vital oil terminal at Kharg island. Iran struck back by attacking tankers carrying Iraqi oil from Kuwait and then any tanker of the Gulf states supporting Iraq. The air and small boat attacks did very little to damage the economies of either country and the price of oil was never seriously affected as Iran just moved its shipping port to Larak Island in the straits of Hormuz.

In 1987 Kuwait persuaded the US to offer protection to its tanker fleet dragging the USA directly into the war. US warships soon began patrolling the gulf and on 17th May 1987 an Iraqi Super-Etendard aircraft fired two Exocet missiles at the USS Stark thinking she was an Iranian warship. Embarrassingly for the Americans the Stark's defences did not function and 37 US sailors died. Iraq apologised for the incident and this was accepted. To ensure a repeat of the incident didn't happen again US, Iraqi and Saudi forces collaborated. Iran with some justification accused the US of helping Iraq. Iran began to sow the gulf with anti-ship mines. Several ships were hit, including the USS Samuel B. Roberts in April 1988. Tensions rose further when on 3 July 1988 an American warship shot down an Iranian airline in error.

The US retaliated to attack on the Stark and the damage to the by Samuel B. Roberts destroying Iranian warships and patrol boats further demonstrating to the Gulf states the American support of Iraq, embittering Iran, and illustrating how vulnerable military and civilian shipping is to attack in the Persian Gulf.

How to cite this article:Dugdale-Pointon, TDP. (27 October 2002), Tanker War 1984-1988, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/wars_tanker.html

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