By Sara al-Qaher for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Iran, Iraq seek to send a message with joint naval exercises
In conjunction with the military maneuvers of the Iranian-backed Shiite Popular Mobilization Units along the Iraqi border with Saudi Arabia on Jan. 4, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attacked Saudi Arabia from Tehran on Jan. 3, accusing Riyadh of being a source of terrorism and of backing terror groups in the region.
This followed another maneuver by Iranian-Iraqi maritime forces at the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that flows into the Persian Gulf.
Maliki's statements and the military maneuver both carry a clear message to Saudi Arabia that Iraq is a full ally of Iran against any Saudi threat.
On Dec. 16, Iranian naval forces conducted a military exercise with a nominal participation of the Iraqi naval forces at the Shatt al-Arab. Iranian naval commanders said the military drills were aimed at enhancing joint maritime patrols, searching suspected boats and preventing smuggling, infiltration and piracy in the waters of the Shatt al-Arab.
The Iraqi naval forces participated in the exercise with six Defender boats. This joint exercise is the first between Tehran and Baghdad since the restoration of bilateral relations after 2003.
Jabbar al-Saidi, the head of the security committee in the Basra provincial council, described the drills as mere joint tactical exercises to enhance Iraq’s maritime capabilities and expertise. He told Al-Monitor that the exercise had opened the door to joint cooperation between Iraqi and Iranian coastal guards focused on controlling activities of smugglers and traffickers. He said that the drills will continue in light of the ongoing cooperation and meetings with Iran to promote joint naval security work.
The Shatt al-Arab is seen as the backbone of the Iraqi economy, serving as a channel for ships heading to the port of Basra from the Persian Gulf. It is also a major source of irrigation for palm groves. The Shatt al-Arab is 190 kilometers (118 miles) long and 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) wide in some areas.
Iran has three ports along the Shatt al-Arab: the ports of Khorramshahr, which has seen significant expansion, Abadan and Khosro-Abad. In recent years, Iran has also started building three more ports, in addition to new offshore platforms.