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Iraq Sets Two Tankers Ablaze Off Iran

July 2, 1988

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Iraqi warplanes fired missiles into two tankers leaving an Iranian oil terminal and set them on fire, Persian Gulf shipping executives said today.

The attacks on the 268,081-ton Greek-owned Fortuneship L and the 284,299- ton Iranian-owned Khark 4 raised fears of a new round of shipping raids by Iran and Iraq in the so-called ″tanker war.″

Both ships were still blazing 12 hours after the attacks. Shipping executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they had no word of casualties in the latest raids.

The tankers were at the end of a convoy that had loaded at the Kharg Island terminal in the northern gulf and was sailing south for Larak, another terminal in the Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the gulf.

The last Iraqi strike on Iranian shipping was June 8 when warplanes attacked the 742-ton Singapore-flagged tugboat Salverve. Two seamen were killed.

Iran’s last raid was June 14, when gunboats attacked the Singapore-flagged Neptune Subaru, setting it on fire.

The main focus of the nearly 8-year-old gulf war in recent months has been on the battlefield. The Iraqis have recaptured a series of border areas to gain an edge in the conflict with Iran.

Baghdad Radio, quoting a military communique, reported that Iraqi warplanes hit two ″large maritime targets,″ which usually means tankers, off the Iranian coast at 10 p.m. Friday (3 p.m. EDT) and at 8 minutes after midnight (5:08 p.m. EDT Friday).

The jets scored ″direct and effective hits″ and returned safely to base, the communique said.

″The raids were in line with Iraq’s determination to cut off the enemy’s oil supplies and revenues which it uses to finance the war,″ the communique added.

The Iraqis have been attacking tankers carrying Iranian oil since 1984 seeking to choke off Tehran’s economic lifeline.

The Iranians retaliate on a ship-for-ship basis. Iraq’s ports have been closed since the early days of the war, so the Iranians attack neutral merchant ships, mainly those serving Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Tehran claims they aid Iraq.

More than 500 ships have been attacked in the tanker war and more than 300 seamen have been killed.

The Iranians gunboats have kept a low profile in recent weeks, with only three attacks reported since May 27.

But shipping executives said today that an Iranian gunboat was active in the southern part of the waterway, raising fears that it was prowling for targets following Iraq’s night-time air strikes.

In Seoul, South Korea protested to Iraq an attack on an Iranian construction site and demanded compensation for the deaths of Korean workers.

The Iraqi air force Thursday bombed a gas plant being built at Kangan on Iran’s southern gulf coast and the Cyrus oilfield in the northern gulf.

The South Korean government said 12 Korean workers were killed, along with one Iranian, in the Kangan raid. Seoul said another 45 Koreans were wounded.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Iraq’s Higher Education Ministry said in Baghdad that thousands of male students have been sent to special camps for a month of military training

The spokesman, who declined to be identified, said the students were drafted from Iraq’s five universities and dozens of schools.

The summer camps apparently were set up to boost Iraq’s military reserves. An estimated 1 million Iraqis are currently under arms.

Under compulsory military service, Iraqi men serve in the regular army for 24 months after graduation.