Cablegate: Shepherding Humanitarian Fuel for Basra

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary. Apparently frustrated that the Coalition was
not heeding Kuwait's requests to tighten controls on the
Iraq-Kuwait border to limit smuggling, the GOK slammed shut
to civilian traffic its northern border with Iraq on 12
August. Convoys of vehicles supplying the contracted-out
logistics that feed, fuel and house much of the Coalition
Forces in Iraq were stranded at the border for over a day in
temperatures that exceeded 130 degrees Fahrenheit; the more
hazardous cargo, e.g., LPG and gasoline tankers, returned to
staging areas in Kuwait City. Critical generator power and
emergency fuel supplies for Basra, the scene of recent riots,
could not move north. Embassy brokered a temporary
arrangement under which Ministry of the Interior officers
would permit the passage of trucks vetted by Emboffs at the
border as properly manifested and indeed carrying
humanitarian fuel assistance under USG contract. Embassy is
coordinating with MFA an interagency, multi-lateral meeting
among the concerned parties to work out a more durable and
standardized procedure. Our objective is to keep the trucks
rolling north expeditiously while ensuring that they return
to Kuwait free of contraband or potentially hazardous
materials. End Summary.

2. On Tuesday, 12 August, the GOK stopped virtually all
Coalition support to Iraq at the Abdaly/Safwan (aka: Major
Supply Route (MSR) "Tampa") crossing point without prior
notice. This action reportedly was prompted by Ministry of
the Interior (MOI) suspicions about smuggling (of persons and
goods) from Iraq into Kuwait on board U.S. contractors' and
other vehicles deadheading back to Kuwait.

3. Embassy received first word of the border bottleneck from
our Office of Military Cooperation - Kuwait (OMC-K) on the
morning of Wednesday, 13 August, as we headed into the local
Thursday/Friday weekend. To drive home their desire to get
Coalition attention, the two agencies most responsible for
the border closing, the MOI and Ministry of Defense (MOD),
made themselves unavailable for several hours. CDA, however,
did reach the MFA Americas Department Director Ambassador
Khaled Al-Babtain to express USG concerns, and once
energized, he succeeded in getting the message that we needed
the border open directly to the newly appointed Minister of
the Interior.

4. Working the issue within the GOK, Amb Al-Babtain conveyed
our argument, that:

a) USG understands and appreciates that increased
security concerns dictate a general tightening of controls at
the border, and given the heightened tensions in Iraq we
share those concerns;

b) recent press reports have unfairly portrayed Kuwait as
uncooperative in the shipment of humanitarian fuel to Iraq;

c) we are concerned that whatever the source of the
current misunderstanding regarding the border, its closing
might be portrayed as Kuwaiti obstructionism and we must
avoid that;

d) that it would be helpful to return temporarily to the
pre-Wednesday border control regime of self-regulation by USG
and its contractors while together we resolve the border
issues in a calm atmosphere.

5. Our immediate concern, given the fuel riots in Basra the
previous weekend, was that emergency LPG and gasoline
shipments not be delayed another day. The border problems
had forced the return to Kuwait City of LPG and gasoline
tankers destined for Basra on Tuesday and Wednesday. During
the second day of the blockage, we learned that 26 military
generators (providing 20 megawatts of power) for use in
Basra, had been delayed as well. Kellogg Brown and Root
(KBR) and U.S. military personnel reported that these
generators were needed urgently to supplement the Basra
electrical grid and to revive critical refinery operations
there as well.

6. Late on 13 August, Amb Al-Babtain called CDA to report
that his interlocutors concurred in our para 4 logic. He
offered that it might be possible to operate for a few days
under a temporary, albeit somewhat tighter, variation of the
earlier self-policing by the U.S. military and civilian
contractors. Al-Babtain accepted our proposal that Embassy
officers accompany the humanitarian fuel shipments to the
border the next morning to vet for MOI which vehicles were
indeed humanitarian-related; to ensure that those vehicles
had military escort; and to establish an ad hoc procedure to
meet GOK concerns for clear identification of vehicles and
passengers. Al-Babtain offered no special exemption for
anything other than the humanitarian fuel shipments.

7. Early on 14 August, Econ Chief and US Customs Advisor to
the GOK arrived at MSR Tampa, staged the LPG and gasoline
trucks on Highway 80 approximately five miles below the
Navstar assembly point, and then met at Navstar with military
and civilian representatives of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
(COE), U.K. military escorts, KBR's LPG and gasoline site
managers and personnel of the contracted service providers.
They briefed on the "deal" worked out with MFA the evening
before. Unable at the border to reach the MFA-designated MOI
contact, Emboffs spoke with the MOI OIC present and then
visited both checkpoints on the military access route into
Iraq to ensure that all understood and accepted the agreement
to return to a modified business as usual. By mid-morning,
the 3 LPG tankers, 25 gasoline tankers and -- stretching the
MFA deal to accommodate the Basra generators as
"energy-related" -- 26 trucks carrying Basra's emergency
power supply were in train and on the road with a military

8. Later in the morning, and in keeping with the MOI
manifesting and identification agreement, two additional
25-vehicle gasoline convoys headed north for the
South-Central Iraq cities of Al Latifiya and Ad Diwaniya.
That afternoon, the U.K. escort reported back to Emboffs by
cell phone that the first fuel convoy had arrived in Basra
without incident and downloaded its fuel successfully. Other
convoys had agreed to report to Emboffs and COE civilian
personnel as they reached their destinations. No negative
incidents were reported throughout the afternoon. On 15
August, COE personnel informed Emboffs that the revived
manifesting process continued to work and that several more
convoys had passed north on the military road without undue

9. On 17 August, CDA and Econ Chief met with Amb Al-Babtain
at the MFA to discuss a regularization of border procedures
and controls. On Amb Al-Babtain's recommendation, Embassy
has requested by diplomatic note the convening of a
multilateral and interministerial meeting to address border
concerns. We propose to bring members of the Coalition
Forces as well as representatives of the U.K. Embassy in
Kuwait to this meeting. We would hope to work directly with
appropriate officials from the Kuwaiti Ministries of
Interior, Defense, and Foreign Affairs as well as other
agencies or departments the GOK might wish to include.

10. Comment: Embassy shares the concerns of the GOK on the
importance of getting a handle on border security issues
immediately. Hundreds of now-uninspected trucks with the
potential to conceal lethal or dangerous contraband return to
Kuwait from the neighboring war zone each day. Given the
unsettled conditions in Iraq and the potential for those
disturbances to migrate here, we and the GOK should exercise
as strict a vigilance as possible at the border. We also are
concerned about the potential force protection implications
of this issue, with smuggling of weapons or explosives a real
possibility. British Embassy here in Kuwait has asked to be
part of the process since much of their support in the south
comes directly from Kuwait. We have been open to these
British queries and will continue to include them in our
discussions with the GOK. Kuwait Immigration Chief told CDA
on 18 August that he is receiving increasingly serious
charges of abuses at the border. We have passed these
allegations on to OMC-K for U.S. military consideration. The
good news is that the Kuwaiti closure last week has had the
desired effect. Now that the GOK is convinced the U.S. is
taking their concerns seriously, the border is fully open to
Coalition traffic. We intend to keep the lines of
communication open between the Coalition and the GOK, and we
anticipate no further misunderstandings at the Iraq-Kuwait
border. End Comment.

11. Minimize considered.

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