Iraq hiring U.S. to rebuild port

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Iraq’s navy is paying the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revamp part of southern Iraq’s Umm Qasr port, which is vital to the security of Iraq’s southern oil exports.

The project is the first Foreign Military Sales project between Iraq and the corps.

“The Iraqi navy has only one pier, and the current one is decades old and in need of extensive repair,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Eyre, commanding general of the corps’ Gulf Region Division. “This project will provide a state-of-the-art facility that will meet the current needs of the Iraqi navy and can easily be expanded to meet future requirements.”

Congress has criticized the Iraqi government for not paying more of the country’s reconstruction costs, and U.S. officials have also questioned the country’s capacity to carry out large-scale reconstruction projects.

For the port project, the Iraqi government has essentially contracted the corps for the $53 million rehabilitation of the Umm Qasr pier and seawall near the Kuwait border on the western side of the al-Faw Peninsula, which juts into the Persian Gulf.

More than 70 percent of Iraq’s oil exports - on which the country is dependent - are sent to market via Gulf tankers. Southern oil infrastructure has been less affected by violence than that in the north since 2003, but the sea route taken by tankers to transport Iraq’s oil exports runs between Kuwait and Iran and remains vulnerable to piracy and other threats.

When the port project is completed, the Iraqi navy and other ships tasked with protecting the terminals where oil is loaded will have a berthing facility and headquarters.

“This project further strengthens the Iraqi navy’s ability to protect the nation’s sovereign waters, including its oil infrastructure,” Gen. Eyre said.

“The Iraqi navy is also charged with customs control and anti-piracy. [But] the Iraqi navy’s main mission is to protect the oil pipelines and platforms in the Arab Gulf, ensuring that Iraq’s primary export and source of funding is secured and protected,” he said. “It is crucial that this project be constructed and be done in a timely manner.”

Officials from Iraq’s Ministry of Defense and navy, the corps, and Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq have been coordinating the project since October. Last week, representatives from both countries signed a “certificate of agreement” charting the course through completion in September.

Around 45,000 people live in the historic town, said to be the site of Alexander the Great’s landing in Mesopotamia in 325 B.C. A naval base was first established after the 1958 Iraqi revolution and the port was completed in 1967.

The state port company is seeking bidders for supplying modern scanning and logging systems, part of an overall attempt to reconstruct Iraq’s ports network and enhance trade.

In August, Iraq ended a plan to fully privatize the ports. Previous attempts led to protests from Iraq’s port and other organized workers.

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