Saturday, July 12, 2008

Busted: West seizes £800m-worth of drugs from Iranian ports

Tehran strenuously denies involvement in narcotics smuggling, widely claimed to be a crucial source of income for the Taliban

Worsening tension between Iran and the West has been given a new twist by the revelation that the Royal Navy and allied forces have intercepted smuggled narcotics worth more than £800m coming out of Iranian ports. Much of the money, it is claimed, helps to fund the Taliban in Afghanistan. Although raids on drugs-carrying dhows have been going on for several months near the sensitive Straits of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Gulf, they have only now been made public.

According to military sources, the dhows carrying the narcotics are loaded in a number of small Iranian ports, but Tehran strenuously denies being involved in the illicit trade. It says any Western allegation of a link to trafficking is propaganda, partly aimed at justifying its large-scale naval presence in the area.

Western powers have long claimed that the Straits of Hormuz are used by terrorist groups for running drugs. One of the first seizures took place five years ago when the destroyer USS Decatur captured a dhow carrying £5m-worth of hashish.

Iran has a growing drugs problem, and hundreds of Iranian border guards have been killed in shootouts with smugglers at the Afghan border.

But US and British officials say the Iranians have armed both Sunni and Shia insurgents in Iraq. Iran also has strong ties to its fellow Shias in Afghanistan, but has been accused nonetheless of supplying weapons to the Taliban, a charge it strongly denies.