War on Terrorism

Thursday, September 10, 2009

U.S. Sailors, Coast Guard Protect Iraq's Economy

By Army Spc. Darryl L. Montgomery
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 10, 2009 - Eighty percent of Iraq's gross domestic product is pumped through pipelines and onto tankers at the Al Basrah Oil Terminal 30 miles off the coast of Iraq in the Persian Gulf. The terminal is a vital part of Iraq's economy, and it is the job of the U.S. sailors and Coast Guardsmen stationed there to keep it safe, according to Navy Cmdr. Thomas Shultz, commander of Task Group Iraqi Maritime.

"The Al Basrah Oil Terminal is the main Iraqi oil terminal for off-loading oil from Iraq. It accounts for approximately 80 percent of their GDP on a daily basis, so it is a key part of their economic structure," the San Diego resident said. "It is something that has to stay open and continue working day in and day out for the Iraqi economy to keep on moving."

Four tankers simultaneously dock at the platform, while Iraq's oil is pumped into the ships. The terminal receives an average of six tankers per week and pumps around 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, Shultz said.

"That's quite a bit of oil that is going into these tankers on a daily basis," he said. "They will take the oil back to all different types of countries -- from the far east to the Americas, and Europe. Tankers from all over the world are coming here."

But soon it will be the Iraqis' responsibility to safeguard the terminal.

"Our main mission now is to train them to be ready for that day," said Navy Chief Petty Officer Stephen Leas, operations specialist chief of the destroyer USS Decatur. "We are here to support them while they get on their feet.

"When something happens out here, we make sure [the Iraqi naval forces] know about it. We clear everything through them before we take action to correct the issue," Leas, a Victorville, Calif., native said.

Shultz added that there was an attempted attack on the terminal in 2004, but the military forces successfully held it off.

On the platform, sailors and Coast Guardsmen patrol every minute of the day to maintain situational awareness and ensure any threats that come up are dealt with immediately. Iraqi sailors and marines also help provide security on the platform.

On the waters surrounding the oil terminal, U.S. Navy ships and Iraqi patrol boats patrol to ensure no unauthorized water craft breech the security perimeter.

About 100 workers from the Basra-based Southern Oil Company operate the valves to ensure the oil makes its way to the tankers, Shultz said.

The commander said he and others enjoy what is an unusual, but rewarding mission on the platform.

"It's very interesting, different than anything folks normally have a chance to do," he said. "People that come here are interested. It's a real mission. You're protecting something that is helping the Iraqi people and the nation as a whole, so people get a lot out of conducting this mission."

(Army Spc. Darryl L. Montgomery serves in the Multinational Division South public affairs office.)

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