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Officials: Iranian patrol boats probe Iraqi waters

Story Highlights

• Officials: Iranian patrol boats recently entered Iraqi waters near oil terminals
• U.S. Navy officer says Iran trying to see what response its actions get
• Iran's actions the subject of recent U.S. military briefings, officials say
• U.S. assessment is Iran trying to raise its military presence in Persian Gulf
From Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon Correspondent
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iranian patrol boats have increased attempts in the last week to assess defenses near Iraqi offshore oil terminals, U.S. military officials said Monday.

The Iranian actions at the northern end of the Persian Gulf have been a subject of operational briefings for U.S. military personnel in recent days, the officials said.

The officials -- who said they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter -- said that the United States does not see the Iranian moves as aggressive or provocative. The assessment is that the probes are part of an Iranian effort to raise its military presence in the gulf. (Watch boats scoot in and out of Iraqi waters Video)

Officials said that for several months they have seen Iranian flagged vessels attempt to approach oil terminals in the area, but activity rose last week.

On at least two days, Iranian patrol boats crossed into Iraqi waters at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, the officials said.

The boats stayed inside Iraqi waters for several minutes before Iraqi security forces told them to leave. The Iranian boats did not approach the oil terminals.

Iraqi security forces recently took over the main responsibility for guarding the terminals, although U.S. naval forces remain nearby.

A senior U.S. Navy officer said he thinks Iran is trying to see what response its actions get from Iraqi and U.S. naval forces. The Navy officer said that in the last several months Iranian naval forces have expanded their area of operations inside the gulf, often increasing activity in offshore areas for training and exercises.

The U.S. Navy has encountered Iranian ships and small fishing vessels in several cases, but there have been no hostilities, the officer said.

The intelligence assessment is that in many cases the Iranians are watching the U.S. Navy to see how it operates. The officer confirmed to CNN that the Navy has increased its security precautions when dealing with Iranian entities on the water to ensure there are no miscommunications or miscalculations.

U.S. ships will continue to render assistance to stranded mariners, including Iranians, the officer said, but will be cautious in approaching any Iranian boats seeking U.S. naval assistance.

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An oil tanker is moored at Basra, near one of Iraq's most productive oil fields.

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