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Iran Seizure of UK Personnel — Why Now?
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Iran Seizure of UK Personnel

I haven’t posted on the seizure because I’ve been waiting for more information. When a similar thing happened in June, 2004, it was over in a week. Fortunately, the UK has an embassy in Iran and talks to the government, which makes the resolution of these things a lot easier.

Thers of Whiskey Fire covers the wingnut reaction to an Andrew Sullivan piece, which basically said that the US treatment of “enemy combatants” could well make things rough on the Royal Navy and Marine people who were taken.

I don’t think the Iranians are going to mistreat their prisoners. Fortunately their batshit crazy president has no actual power, so the decisions will be made by people who are going to rub the West’s nose in the fact that an Islamic country doesn’t mistreat prisoners or hold mock trials, like the Shrubbery. Iran’s real leaders are looking for international support to fight the recently imposed sanctions over its nuclear program, and this would be a golden opportunity to demonstrate what an exemplar of a peace-loving, law-abiding nation that Iran is. [I plead too many years reading Soviet agitprop.]

The real problem is the “wet border” between Iran and Iraq isn’t fixed. The British Navy have GPS charts that show exactly where their troops were when they were confronted by Iranian sources, but it isn’t clear where the border is.

A backgrounder from the BBC: Murky dividing lines of Shatt al-Arab:

[Admiral] Sir Alan [West] said a commission would usually meet every two or three years to agree exactly where the median line should be.

“The commission is meant to sit regularly to discuss and arbitrate exactly where the median line down the Shatt al-Arab goes because it does move with the seasons and each year it moves in shifts because it’s quite a flow of water,” he said.


Richard Schofield, an expert in international boundaries at King’s College London, questioned whether the dispute would be eased if the Royal Navy released co-ordinates of where the sailors were seized.

“Releasing the co-ordinates wouldn’t necessarily help us as there is no formally agreed boundary,” he said.

“It isn’t clear the incident happened off the water of Shatt al-Arab. We are talking about territorial waters beyond.”

“Iran and Iraq have never agreed a boundary of their territorial waters. There is no legal definition of the boundary beyond the Shatt al-Arab.”

It would appear that there needs to be an agreement on where the middle of the Shatt al-Arab is, before anyone knows if there was a violation of national sovereignty.


1 jamsodonnell { 03.27.07 at 3:44 am }

I don’t see the Iranians mistreating the RN personnel either but I wonder if Iran is now in a “now what do we do with them” situation. Apart from trespass I can’t see what Iran would achieve from putting them on trial.They make pretty poor leverage to further support against nuclear sanctions…

I daresay some agreement will be made where they are swapped for some Iranians held somewhere else. Not a great solution but it’s not a casus belli

2 Bryan { 03.27.07 at 8:25 am }

At this point, it’s an struggle within the Iranian government to determine what to do. I would assume that the Iranians want the people who were picked up in Iraq to be released, but that’s going to take time and some US cooperation.

At least the UK government can and will talk. The current US government would use it as an excuse to start something.