Saturday, March 21, 2009

Midland soldiers insist Iraqis can go it alone

In his final report from Iraq, reporter Paul Bradley discovers how Midland soldiers have prepared Iraqi marines and sailors to guard their two greatest financial assets.

Iraqi marines and naval forces are on track to guard their two main oil platforms from “probing enemies” thanks to the guidance of Midland troops.

Oil platforms KAAOT and ABOT, 60 miles away from the port of Um Qasr in Southern Iraq, produce 80 per cent of Iraq’s oil wealth.

But after the conflicts in 1991 and 2003 the security resources designed to protect them were decimated.Now, the Coalition Naval Advisory Transition Team, made up of nine US and British services including the US coastguard and the Royal Marines, are aiming to put things to rights.
They are training the Iraqi Marines and Navy to protect the oil platforms as part of a contract that will see them stay in South Port Um Qasr until 2011.

But a few hundred metres along the coastline at North Port, The Queen’s Royal Hussars, who are predominantly from the West Midlands, will be withdrawing, leaving the Iraqis to defend the area under the eye of the US Army.

Training Officer, Lieutenant Commander Grant Kelly, said: “It is no secret that different nations are constantly probing each other’s capabilities. It is important that the Iraqis protect the two oil platforms because they are the life-blood of the whole country.”

The Iraqi government aims to develop the port further. Coalition forces initially invested in a fleet of ships to protect it but now they have changed their stance and are advising Iraq how best to invest their own cash. The commercial port is progressing rapidly, with capacity increasing by 20 per cent each year.

And the Queen’s Royal Hussars, who will be the final British troops to withdraw from the port later this year, are confident the Iraqis are ready to take on the mission of keeping the port safe.

Lieutenant Harry Howard, aged 25, from Worcester, said: “Reconstruction projects will obviously take a long time but there is no reason why they cannot work. The port is ready now and everything is working fine. I believe this place will get better and better with time.

“We have been looking after important visitors such as foreign investors, military figures and politicians. But in the future that task will be passed on to the Iraqis. They are more than ready for it.”

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