Britain offers to protect Iraqi oil supplies

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Apr. 30 -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, following talks in London with his Iraqi counterpart Nuri al-Maliki, said the UK wants to help protect Iraqi oil supplies even after its combat role in the Middle Eastern country comes to an end.

"We hope to sign an agreement with the Iraqi government about the future role that we can play in training and in protecting the oil supplies of Iraq," said Brown, adding that the agreement would be "between our two governments rather than any new United Nations resolution."

British troops are withdrawing from Iraq 6 years after joining the US-led invasion. By the end of July there will be 400 British troops remaining in the country, there only to provide specialist training to Iraqi forces.

Brown's statement came after talks with the Iraqi prime minister, in London with senior Iraqi officials and international business leaders to attend a conference exploring possible investment in his country.

Ahead of the conference, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani told Iraq's Al-Sharqiya TV channel that his country will need $50 billion of investment over the coming 5 years to repair and upgrade the oil industry.

The investment funds would allow Iraq to increase its oil output to 6 million b/d from its current production levels of 2.4 million b/d, while also repairing and modernizing existing production facilities and infrastructure.

Brown's statement came as British and US military forces handed the Iraqi navy full responsibility for protecting the Khor al-Amaya oil export platform, which along with the al-Basra terminal, handles the bulk of Iraq's oil exports.

Until the turnover, the two terminals have been protected by US and British forces who, along with personnel from Australia and Singapore, also have worked to prepare Iraqi naval recruits for the assignment.

Adm. Tom Cropper, commander of Task Force Iraqi Maritime, called the turnover a "breakthrough" in Iraqi military independence, noting that the Iraqi naval personnel understand the importance of protecting the terminals which produce most of the country's domestic product.

"We are ready to protect this terminal [and] later we'll take over the other," said Iraqi navy operations commander, Commodore Ahmed Jassim Marij, who added, "Protecting our oil terminals from the threat of terrorism is vital."

More than 80% 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, according to British Royal Navy Capt. Nick Hine, who directs the Coalition Naval Advisor and Training Team.

The two oil platforms inside Iraq's territorial waters "currently provide, depending on who you talk to, between…80% and 90% 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.

Still, as Brown implied, the Iraqi navy is not fully prepared to take over all operations, a point underscored by Royal Navy Capt. Richard Ingram, head of the coalition naval advisory team in the Port of Umm Qasr.

Ingram said the progress of Iraqi naval personnel has been "pretty dramatic" but that there is "still a lot" for them to achieve.

US Navy Capt. Karl van Deusen, head of operations for the coalition task force, said building the Iraqi navy is a long-term goal. "We're doing a phased approach. We don't want to just cut the cord and walk away. We're still here."

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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