Kuwait Times Reports: Iraq inaugurates patrol boat in attempt to build up navy

For immediate release: Sep 27, 2010


September 27, 2010

Iraq inaugurates patrol boat in attempt to build up navy

UMM QASR: Iraq inaugurated the first in a fleet of new US-built patrol boats yesterday, part of efforts to boost its naval capacity and secure key oil platforms ahead of an American withdrawal at the end of next year. The rapid build-up of the Iraqi navy is seen as crucial to protecting the terminals through which the vast majority of the country’s crude is exported, with oil accounting for around 95 percent of government income.

In a ceremony at Umm Qasr Naval Base, around 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Baghdad, sailors demonstrated the capabilities of the boat-named “PB 301”-by showing it chase down smaller vessels. A six-piece military band played as the boat was unveiled during the ceremony, attended by Defence Minister Abdul Qader Obeidi and Lieutenant General Michael Barbero, the top American commander responsible for training Iraq’s security forces. “I am proud to be among the first to witness the historical arrival and
commissioning of Iraq’s first patrol boat,” said Vice Admiral Kevin McCoy, the commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command, which is primarily tasked with building and supporting the US Navy’s fleet.

This occasion reflects the important ties that bound our governments and our commitment to supporting a strong coalition partnership that is based on mutual respect and cooperation.” Crews for the high-speed patrol boats are currently being trained in the United States, with 15 ultimately set to be delivered to Iraq. Three are set to arrive in December, with the remaining 11 due to be delivered next year.

At present, the Iraqi navy, re-established two years after the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, has 47 vessels, according to a US army spokeswoman. It currently handles on-site and perimeter defense for the Khor Al-Amiya oil terminal, and on-site defense for the Al-Basra oil terminal, which are 10 kilometers (six miles) apart and 100 kilometers off the port of Umm Qasr, sandwiched between Iranian and Kuwaiti waters.

Some 80 percent of Iraq’s oil exports pass through the two terminals, with three more set to be added by the end of next year as the country seeks to ramp up oil exports by as much as five times. By that time, when US forces will have had to completely withdraw from the country according to the terms of a bilateral security pact, Iraq will be solely responsible for all security at oil facilities, including platforms.

US officers are confident their Iraqi comrades are up to the task. “The Iraqi navy will be fully capable to defend the oil platforms, the territorial waters and the ports,” Barbero told AFP in an interview this month. The old Iraqi navy was destroyed in the 1991 Gulf War and in the 2003 invasion. The United States pulled out combat troops from Iraq at the start of this month, and will complete a full withdrawal at the end of next year. – AFP