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Iraq says it has dismantled mine on tanker in Persian Gulf

An aerial photo shows oil tankers load crude oil at Iraq's Al-Basra Offshore Terminal in Basra, Iraq, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)
An aerial photo shows oil tankers load crude oil at Iraq's Al-Basra Offshore Terminal in Basra, Iraq, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BAGHDAD – Iraq's military on Saturday said explosives experts with its naval forces successfully dismantled a mine that was discovered stuck to an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf two days earlier.

The statement said Iraqi authorities have opened an investigation into the incident. No group has claimed responsibility for placing the mine.

The announcement came a day after Iraq confirmed reports by private security firms that a mine had been discovered attached to the side of a tanker rented from Iraq's Oil Marketing Company, known as SOMO, as it was refueling another vessel. It said that Iraqi teams were working to dismantle the mine.

Iraq has not provided further details, but the two private security firms said the discovery was likely a limpet mine on the MT Pola, a Liberian-flagged tanker.

A limpet mine is a type of naval mine that attaches to the side of a ship, usually by a diver-member of special forces. It later explodes, and can significantly damage a vessel.

The discovery came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Already, America has conducted B-52 bomber flyovers and sent a nuclear submarine into the Persian Gulf over what Trump officials describe as the possibility of an Iranian attack on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. drone strike near Baghdad that killed a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, and top Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Iraq is marking the anniversary with a series of events this week, including a ceremony at Baghdad's airport Saturday night, where the strike that killed the two men occurred.

Thousands of mourners joined a mock funeral procession on the highway leading to the airport, which was blocked with cars Saturday evening.

Posters of the dead men adorned both sides of the road, which was lined with tents that served food and drinks for those who walked the highway. The scene of the bombing was turned into a shrine-like area sealed off by red ropes, with a photo of Soleimani and al-Muhandis in the middle, as mourners lit candles.

Shrapnel marks were still visible on the asphalt and walls in the area.

Soleimani headed Iran's Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, responsible for the Islamic Republic’s foreign operations and frequently shuttling between Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. His assassination dramatically ratcheted up tensions in the region and brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war.