Iran smuggling oil in violation of sanctions

By Faris al-Omran

This photo of an Iranian oil port was posted online by the National Iranian Oil Company on January 29th.

This photo of an Iranian oil port was posted online by the National Iranian Oil Company on January 29th.

With sanctions imposed on Iranian oil exports, the Islamic Republic is having a hard time finding international buyers, and has stepped up its efforts to smuggle crude out of the country, officials and experts told Diyaruna.

During the first half of this year, Iran's oil exports dropped from three million to less than 500,000 barrels a day as a result of the sanctions.

But it seems the regime does not expect its exports to reach zero, experts said, even as supply exemptions granted by the US to several countries have been cancelled, depriving Iran of more than $10 billion in annual oil revenues.

"The Iranians have repeatedly announced they will be looking into any means possible to circumvent the sanctions," al-Mustansiriya University political science teacher Issam al-Fayli told Diyaruna.

"There is no doubt that they have resorted to smuggling in order to provide their allies in the region with oil, particularly the Syrian regime," he said.

"Oil shipments that were smuggled from Iran to Syria in May confirm the former's intent to defy the international community, even if that comes at a high price," he added.

In early June, commercial satellite imagery from Tanker Trackers, which reports shipments and storage of crude oil in several areas of interest, showed that five Iranian tankers had arrived at the Syrian port of Baniyas since early May.

Each ship delivers about a million barrels of oil, currently worth more than $60 million, according to a June 11th report in the Wall Street Journal.

Iran wants to kill two birds with one stone, al-Fayli said, as it is seeking oil revenues from Syria, even if payments are delayed, while at the same time helping the Syrian regime to ease internal pressure from fuel shortages.

Iran knows the danger of growing popular discontent against the Syrian regime on its interests in the region, he said, noting that it is in Tehran's interest to protect the regime of Bashar al-Assad and prevent it from collapse.

By supporting the Syrian regime with oil exports and through other means, it seeks to ensure Syria remains part of the so-called "resistance axis", he said.

Involvement of Iran-backed Iraqi militias

Some media outlets have reported that Tehran has been using a new smuggling mechanism through which Iran-backed Iraqi militias move Iranian oil to Iraq's Basra port, which is then shipped onwards via tankers as if it is Iraqi oil.

In this way, al-Fayli said, Iran has managed to reap "millions of dollars in oil revenues".

"The [Iran-backed] Iraqi militias are doing everything they can to demonstrate their unwavering loyalty to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)," Iraqi journalist and author Ziyad al-Sinjari told Diyaruna.

Through such actions, he said, these militias are damaging the Iraqi economy and thrusting Iraq into the eye of the storm.

Iran brought the sanctions upon itself, he said, as a result of its policies and interference in the affairs of other countries.

"Iraqi territory and interests are now being taken advantage of by the Iranian regime because of these groups that are deliberately hurting the Iraqis and violating the sovereignty of their country," he added.

Political analyst and former Iraqi MP Taha al-Lahibi told Diyaruna he thinks it is not unlikely that Iran-backed Iraqi militias are smuggling oil from Iran to Syria via tankers, and onwards to other agents and black market dealers.

Agents of these militias that have infiltrated Iraqi state institutions are playing a major role in both smuggling oil into Iraq from Iran and flooding the Iraqi market with other Iranian goods, al-Lahibi said.

He pointed to recent media reports that accused Iran loyalists of "giving infrastructure contracts across a variety of economic sectors to entities that are secretly tied to the IRGC and pumping money into its coffers".

By helping Iran at the expense of the interests and future of the Iraqi people, these militias are "playing with fire", he said.

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