March 27, 2003

MARLO warns of threats to shipping
The U.S. Navy's Maritime Liaison Office in Bahrain (MARLO) has issued and advisory passing on a Coalition warning that Iraqi paramilitary forces could well use terrorist tactics against shipping and recently secured tanker terminals.

The warning comes after reports yesterday that Coalition naval forces were on high alert against suicide attacks after Iranian patrol boats intercepted an Iraqi speedboat packed with half a ton of high explosive. Three other Iraqi speedboats got away when Iranian forces engaged Iraqis at the mouth of the Shatt-al-Arab river, which marks the border between the two countries. The explosives were found after one of the Iraqi boats was run aground.

Today's MARLO advisory notes that "Iraqi paramilitary forces have conducted a number of attacks in direct violation of the Law of Armed Conflict ... These acts include disguising armed combatants as civilians or other nation's military, using civilians as human shields, feigning surrender or requesting humanitarian assistance before attacking Coalition forces."

These same tactics could be used against Coalition naval forces operating in the northern Arabian Gulf and upon the recently secured Mina Al-Bakr Oil Terminal (MABOT) and Khor Al-Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT).

"All vessels and aircraft operating in the Arabian Gulf are to remain clear of Coalition naval units and MABOT and KAAOT," says the advisory. "For your own safety, be aware of the Coalition's heightened state of awareness concerning the potential threat posed by Iraqi paramilitary forces. We strongly recommend that all vessels contact Coalition ships on bridge-to bridge channel 16 if they must operate in proximity to coalition units."

"Coalition Navy and Marine forces will only attack opposing military forces or unknown vessels demonstrating a threat of imminent attack against Coalition forces or property," says the advisory. "However, if vessels of the maritime shipping community or coastal merchants are used for military purposes, these vessels will be subject to being confiscated or destroyed by Coalition forces. The Coalition intends no harm or injury to innocents and noncombatants."

"It is imperative for the maritime community and coastal merchants to avoid interference with any Coalition operations in your area," says the advisory, " so you are not mistakenly identified as a military target."

Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that "the United States is taking steps to ensure the continued movement of shipping and tanker traffic to and from the Persian Gulf."

Coalition military forces will provide security if required or requested, said the statement. "The Department of Transportation will continue, under existing authority, to provide war risk insurance for vessels, including cargoes and crew entering the region, when commercial insurance cannot be obtained on reasonable terms and conditions," noted the statement.

"The uninterrupted movement of shipping in the region means that delivery of humanitarian supplies to the region can continue," said the statement. "As a result, we believe that the UN Security Council should take prompt action to modify the Oil-for-Food Program in order to assure continued delivery of humanitarian supplies, particularly foodstuffs and medical goods, to Iraqi civilians."

Breaking news at this morning's Central Command press conference was that delivery of humanitarian cargoes to Umm Qasr had been delayed by the discovery of sophisticated bottom-influence mines on the sea bottom, adjacent to the cleared channel. These mines could be capable of detonating after first "counting" a previously determined number of passing ships.

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