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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Iraq navy relies on allies to protect oil sites

WASHINGTON The Iraq Navy continues to rely heavily on the U.S.-led coalition.

Officials said the navy relies on British and other forces despite expanded Iraqi responsibility. In February 2006, the navy took the lead in protecting the oil platforms.

"The [Iraqi] Navy, while small, is strategically significant," a House Armed Forces subcommittee said. "Although the Iraqi Navy took the lead in protecting the platforms in February 2006, it still relies heavily on Coalition naval forces."

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The report said the navy contains a patrol squadron and a naval infantry battalion. The patrol squadron operates five 27-meter Chinese-made Predator craft originally ordered by Saddam Hussein in 2002 under the oil-for-food program. The platforms were not allowed to enter Iraq due to their military capabilities until the United States purchased the boats from the Chinese ship-builder and transferred them to the Iraqi Navy.

Officials said a British off-shore support vessel, the HMS Belvedere, has been deployed in the northern Gulf. They said the Belvedere obviates the need for Iraqi boats to travel back to Umm Qasr for resupply and refuel.

At this point, the naval infantry battalion's mission has been deployed to defend the two Iraqi oil platforms. The report cited an assault boat squadron with 24 small fast boats that conduct riverine patrol.

Officials said Defense Ministry plans for the navy include the acquisition of four 54-meter, Italian-built Fincantieri patrol vessels. They said the vessels would arrive in Iraq by the end of the decade.

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