WASHINGTON, March 27, 2009 – More than 80 percent of Iraq’s revenue comes from the sale of oil channeled through two platforms in the Persian Gulf, and defense of those resources is critical to Iraqi national security, a coalition naval advisor said. Developing a professional naval force capable of various maritime duties is essential to safeguarding the flow of oil from Iraq, British Royal Navy Capt. Nick Hine told bloggers and online journalists during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable March 25.

Hine directs the Coalition Naval Advisor and Training Team, part of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.

In its mission to build and train the Iraqi navy to defend Iraq’s territorial waters, essential infrastructure and shipping lanes, the coalition splits operations between Baghdad and southern Iraq. Strategic plans and decisions are handled from the capital, while operational and tactical-level training takes place at Iraq’s sole naval base, located at the port of Umm Qasr in Basra province.

“MNSTC-I works as advisors to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior to help develop the Iraqi security force into a well-trained and professional force, one that is capable of protecting the citizens of Iraq and its vital infrastructure components,” Hine explained.

There are currently two oil platforms inside Iraq’s territorial waters, both relatively close to the Iraqi coastline, Hine said.

“They currently provide, depending on who you talk to, between … 80 and 90 percent of Iraq’s revenue. As you know, the Iraqi economy is largely oil-based,” Hine said. A third offshore platform is planned for completion in 2010, he said.

“I suspect that over time the majority of Iraq’s oil will continue to be provided via maritime means,” Hine said.

In addition to Hine’s team, the Iraqi navy coordinates with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command to facilitate operations in the Persian Gulf. Though the Iraqis are responsible for their own operational planning, liaison with the U.S. Navy ensures that “everything fits together in a seamless way,” Hine said.

“You can imagine that the [territorial] waters of Iraq are a relatively busy place. There are lots of vessels trying to get to the oil platforms to embark oil. There are lots of fishing vessels. There’s lots of merchant-vessel traffic. And of course, there is always the proximity to other countries: Kuwait and Iran,” Hine said. “This all has to fit in, in terms of a wider picture.”

The Iraqi navy must continue to grow to fulfill its mission independently, Hine said. At its current level of 1,974 people, its size is on par with the Iraqi air force.

Capabilities in areas like intelligence, engineering and construction support are necessary for full, independent operational sustainability and are being developed with coalition assistance, but at present are “very much in the embryonic stage,” Hine said. Developing those capabilities will be a priority in 2009 and 2010, he said.

Equipping the navy is proceeding at pace. The Iraqis recently took delivery of six 30-foot Defender Class boats — “effectively a speedboat, for want of a better name,” Hine said. Twenty additional Defender Class boats will be delivered over the course of the next few months. In addition, the navy is about to take delivery of 24 slightly smaller fast-assault boats, he said.

Four 53-meter patrol ships are under contract from Italy and expected to sail by mid-year, Hine said. The first of the Iraqi crews for those ships is currently in Italy undergoing training. The patrol ships will be the largest ships in the navy.

At present, the Iraqi navy does not have a dedicated aviation capability, Hine said. They have plans to deliver both a maritime surveillance capability and support-helicopter lift capability, but both are in the requirements stage. To deliver these capabilities, the navy may partner with the Iraqi air force, Hine said.

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