By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD — The Iraqi Navy will soon add 21 vessels to its fleet, putting it another step closer to being operationally independent, officials said during a Baghdad news conference Sunday.
With a contract on the verge of completion, the Iraqi Navy is the first of the Iraq’s forces to use the Ministry of Defense’s procurement process with Iraqi money in purchasing major capital programs from foreign governments and commercial ventures.
“The Iraqi Navy has come a long way since the end of the hostilities,” United States Navy Capt. Michael Zamesnik, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command liaison officer to Multi-National Force-Iraq, said “They were an organization that had been ravaged by the effects of the war, and they are making great strides to rebuild themselves.”
Zamesnik said that the Iraqi Navy force was making positive steps and continuing to grow in the areas of equipment, training, manning and procurement. Iraqi naval installations are going under massive modernization efforts to build roads, utilities and barracks in addition to the reconstruction of piers to support the incoming vessels, he said. By 2010, 15 patrol boats, four patrol ships, and two off-shore support vessels will be added to the current fleet of fast attack boats and Predator-class ships.
“They have a 24-hour capability, are armed for self-defense, and I would say the Iraqi Navy is considering these to be the jewel in the crown of their future fleet,” British Navy Cmdr. Paul Marshall, Royal Navy advisor, said.
“Any navy in the world would be proud to have an acquisition program that increases capability by that amount within such a short time scale,” Marshall said.
The Iraqi government showed a lot of commitment and faith in the program by supporting it with resources and policies, he said. He also said the Iraqi waterways will continue to become safer with the increased number and skills of personnel, as well.
The Iraqi Navy will eventually take sole responsibility to ensure the security and protection of territorial waters and key infrastructure within its area of responsibility and to counter terrorism, smuggling and illegal activity at sea.
The performance of the Iraqi Navy and Marines is “actually very good,” British Navy Capt. Tony Radakin, commander of the Naval Transition Team at Umm Qasr Naval Base said.
Radakin attributed the recent decrease in piracy and oil smuggling in area waterways to current navy efforts. He also said that the heightened visibility of the navy has created safe waterways for the major commercial ports, which led to quadrupled increases in port revenues.
According to Globalsecurity.org, the Iraqi Navy is currently designed for coastal water protection, stopping the smuggling of people, oil and weapons, and to protect the countries oil platforms.
“The Iraqi Navy is a story of success,” Zamesnik said. “They’ve done a very solid job of rebuilding. I know it will continue, along with Coalition assistance.”
Photo: Commander, Task Group (CTG) 158.1, Capt. Chris Noble (center) discuss ship maintenance on the Al Basra Oil Terminal with senior Iraqi officers visiting the CTG 158.1 area of responsibility from the Umm Qasr Naval Base in Iraq. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Karen Eiffert, 5th Fleet Public Affairs.