First of all, subsea cable cuts (and the word "cut" is unfortunately overused to mean a non-functional cable even when it's not actually severed) occur on a regular basis, and every company that owns subsea cables (such as employer, Global Crossing) contracts with a cable-laying company such as Global Marine (which Global Crossing used to own) to do repairs. Second, in December 2006, there were nine cable breaks in east Asia as a result of earthquakes. In this instance, we are up to only three cable breaks--the first two were FLAG Telecom's Europe-Asia link and SeaMeWe-4, which were broken by a tanker in the Mediterranean between Alexandria, Egypt and Palermo, Sicily, causing disruption to Internet access in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and India. Those cables follow pretty much the same path, from Mumbai, India, to Djibouti, and from there into the Red Sea, past Egypt, through the Suez Canal, and into the Mediterranean to Sicily. It's not surprising that both were cut simultaneously by the same tanker dragging its anchor, they are perhaps a quarter mile apart. An offshoot from those cables goes north from just off the coast of India into the Persian Gulf, past Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain, and lands in Kuwait. In the other direction, it goes to Sri Lanka. The third cable cut was on this offshoot, FLAG Telecom's FALCON cable, off the coast of Dubai, between Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Some have erroneously claimed that four cables were cut, on the basis of a report that a cable was cut between Sri Lanka and the Suez Canal--that's the FALCON cable off the coast of Dubai, not yet another cut.
None of these cables land in Iran or Iraq, at least on my cable map, though there is apparently a Kuwait-Iran subsea cable, so any impact from these cable breaks to Iran is incidental. I don't see any evidence that these are anything other than normal accidental subsea cable breaks. (Correction: FLAG FALCON has a segment from Kuwait to Bandar Abbas, Iran, that was built in 2005 and isn't on my map, which was printed in May 2004.)
You can see Telegeography's submarine cable map of the world for yourself here.
UPDATE (February 3, 2008): I didn't check earlier, but I note that at the moment I have no problem reaching hosts in Iran, such as Mahmoud Ahamdinejad's official blog, or pinging the primary mail server of the Datacommunications Company of Iran (mail.dci.co.ir). Others have previously noted the continuing availability of Ahamdinejad's blog, which is hosted by DCI (AS 12880) and gets upstream connectivity from Singapore Telecom and TTNet (a Turkish ISP). I would hazard a guess that Iran's TTNet connectivity is via terrestrial cable from Turkey.
UPDATE: Egypt claims no ships were in the vicinity in the Mediterranean when the cable cuts there occurred. There is now a report of a fourth cable cut, in the Persian Gulf between the Qatari island of Haloul and the United Arab Emirates island of Das. This outage is now being attributed to a power system problem.
UPDATE (February 4, 2008): The Renesys Blog has analyzed the breaks from a routing perspective, showing which countries have been affected, in a series of posts. In part one, they look at the first two breaks in the Mediterranean, and show that the most impacted countries were Pakistan and Egypt. In part two, they look at the impact by ISP. In part three, they look at how providers addressed their connectivity before and after the breaks. You'll notice one country conspicuously absent from the list of impacted countries--Iran. This is because while Iran has had some impact, it has not been significant. In a fourth post, The Renesys Blog discusses the Iran impact and the misinformation about it that has appeared in places like Slashdot and the blog of the first commenter on this post. In a fifth post, they look at how Indian providers weathered the problems. And in a sixth post, they sum up lessons learned.
UPDATE: These cuts are all associated with bad weather in the region, which is also delaying repairs. Here's a report from FLAG Telecom posted by a commenter at the Renesys Blog:
Update on Submarine Cable Cut - Daily BulletinUPDATE (February 7, 2008): There have been some additional cable faults on FLAG's cable systems, to a total of four or five. In addition to the two listed above (FLAG Europe-Asia, 8.3 km from Alexandria and FLAG FALCON 56 km from Dubai), there has been another on FLAG Europe-Asia 28 km from Penang, Malaysia scheduled for repair on February 11, and possibly two faults on FLAG FALCON near Bandar Abbas, Iran, on a segment that runs from Iran to Kuwait, which will be visited by a repair ship around February 19.
@ 0900 GMT February 4 2008
Bulletin will be updated Daily with Progress.
Cut # 1:
âˆ’ FLAG Europe-Asia cable was reported cut at 0800 hrs GMT on January 30 2008.
âˆ’ Location of cut is at 8.3 kms from Alexandria, Egypt on segment between Egypt and Italy.
âˆ’ The Repair ship loaded with spares is expected to reach the repair ground by February 5 2008.
âˆ’ We have received the necessary permits to commence work from the Egyptian Authorities.
âˆ’ FLAG has restored circuits of customers covered under Pre-planned Restoration service.
âˆ’ FLAG has restoration on alternative routes for customers who have requested Ad hoc Restoration service.
Cut # 2:
âˆ’ FALCON cable was reported cut at 0559 hrs GMT on February 1 2008.
âˆ’ Location of cut is reported at 56 kms from Dubai, UAE on segment between UAE and Oman.
âˆ’ The repair Ship is loaded with all spares and ready to sail. Awaiting clearance from Port Authorities due to 36 knots winds.
âˆ’ FLAG is executing restoration on alternative routes for customers who have requested Ad hoc Restoration service.
The current list is this:
1. Consortium cable SeaMeWe-4, 12.334 km from Alexandria, in the Mediterranean. Currently under repair, should be fixed by this weekend.
2. Qtel's cable from Haloul (Qatar) to Das (UAE), in the Persian Gulf. Probably not a cut, but damaged power system due to weather.
3. FLAG's Europe-Asia (FEA Segment D), 8.3 km from Alexandria, in the Mediterranean. Currently under repair, should be fixed by this weekend by cable ship CS Certamen.
4. FLAG's FALCON (FALCON Segment 2), 56 km from Dubai, UAE in the Persian Gulf, on the route to Al Seeb, Oman. Currently under repair, should be fixed by this weekend. This cut was due to a ship's anchor--an abandoned 5-6 ton anchor was recovered by FLAG at the site (see photo in FLAG's update, PDF)
5. FLAG's Europe-Asia (FEA Segment M), 28 km from Penang, Malaysia. Scheduled for repair on February 11 by cable ship CS Asean Restorer.
6. FLAG's FALCON (FALCON Segments 7a and 7b), two faults on the cable between Kuwait and Bandar Abbas, Iran, scheduled for repair on February 19.
There's an article in Technology Review about the cable breaks.
Alex at the Yorkshire Ranter is a breath of fresh air on this subject, his commentary presents some common sense opinions with a factual basis and accompanied by lots of good links.
UPDATE (February 11, 2008): The Economist also has an excellent summary.
UPDATE (April 16, 2008): Two ships have been identified as the cause of damage to undersea cables in the Persian Gulf. An Indian officer a Syrian chief engineer of an impounded Iraqi ship are being held for trial in Dubai, and the ship owner will have to pay $350,000 in compensation. Another Korean ship was impounded and then released after its owners paid $60,000 in compensation to Flag Telecom. The two ships, the MV Hounslow and the MV Ann, were identified by satellite photos.