Iraq inaugurated the first of its fleet of new US-built patrol boats on Sunday, part of the effort to boost its naval capacity and secure key oil platforms ahead of the American pullout next year, according to an AFP report.
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.
In a ceremony at Umm Qasr Naval Base, 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 at a ceremony attended by Defence Minister Abdul Qader Obeidi and Lieutenant General Michael Barbero, the top US commander responsible for training Iraq’s security forces.
Also as part of the ceremony, Iraqi navy Seals showed off “stop and search” skills aboard a demonstration vessel, and 177 naval cadets graduated from officer training to become lieutenants.
Crews for the new high-speed patrol boats are currently being trained in the United States, with 15 of the vessels ultimately set to be delivered to Iraq.
Three are set to arrive in December, with the remaining 11 due for delivery next year.
The Iraqi navy now has 47 vessels, according to a US army spokeswoman.
It handles on-site and perimeter defence for the Khor al-Amiya oil terminal, and on-site defence for the Al-Basra oil terminal, which are 10 kilometres apart and 100 kilometres 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 withdraw completely from the country under the terms of a bilateral security pact, Iraq will be solely responsible for all security at oil facilities, including platforms.