Iraq's navy is paying the U .S. Army Corps of Engineers to revamp part of Umm Qasr port in southern Iraq, vital to security of Iraq's southern oil exports.
It's the first Foreign Military Sales project between Iraq and the USACE.
"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 USACE's 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."
Iraq's government has received criticism from the U.S. Congress for not paying enough of the reconstruction costs -- although Iraqi and U.S. funds for such work are about equal. The capacity to carry out massive projects has been questioned as well, as the institutional destruction of Iraq's government has been only slowly rebuilt since the 2003 invasion.
The Iraqi government in effect has contracted GRD for a $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 are sent to market via Gulf tankers. Southern oil infrastructure has been less affected by violence than that in the north since 2003. Tucked between Kuwait and Iran, however, the path for most of Iraq's oil exports -- on which the country is dependent -- has seen two wars and faces piracy and other threats from the water.
When completed, both Iraqi navy and other boats, tasked with protecting the terminals where oil is loaded into ships, 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," Eyre said. "The Iraqi navy is also charged with customs control and anti-piracy.
"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. It is crucial that this project be constructed and be done in a timely manner."
Officials from Iraq's Ministry of Defense and Navy, GRD and Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq have been coordinating on the project since October 2008. Last week representatives from both countries signed a "certificate of agreement" charting the course from now through completion in September.
Around 45,000 people live in the historic Umm Qasr town, the alleged site of Alexander the Great's first step into Mesopotamian conquering. A naval base was first established following the 1958 revolution and a port in the 1970s.
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 2008 Iraq ended a plan to fully privatize the ports. Previous attempts led to protests from Iraq's port and other organized workers.
Ben Lando, UPI Energy Editor