Wednesday, October 14, 2009

British Security Pact with Iraq Passes Parliament

By GINA CHON The Iraqi parliament, after several months of delays, passed a security agreement with Britain on Tuesday aimed at protecting crucial oil terminals in southern Iraq, among other duties. About 100 members of the British Navy will train and support Iraqi Navy forces responsible for protecting Um Qasr port, the country's only link to the Persian Gulf and the second-largest source of revenue for the Iraqi government, after oil. The agreement now heads to Iraq's presidency council, which is expected to approve the pact. The security pact is similar to one with the U.S. passed in parliament last year that calls for all American troops to leave by the end of 2011. Most of Iraq's two million barrels a day of oil exports are shipped through the two main oil terminals off the coast of Basra. Iraq also faces oil smuggling, border disputes with Iran and other issues in that area. The British and Iraqi navies, along with some American forces, had been responsible for patrolling that area. The small remaining British force in Iraq had to pull back to other areas in the Middle East over the summer after a British security mandate ended in July. About 4,100 British troops left Iraq by June, and combat operations officially ended in April. They were replaced by more than 5,000 American forces. "The agreement is evidence of our mutual commitment to building the capability of the Iraqi Navy to undertake protection of Iraqi territorial waters and installations," British Ambassador Christopher Prentice said. The Iraq Navy has been struggling to rebuild since it was found in shambles after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The navy now has some 2,000 personnel, and aims to expand to 3,000 by the end of 2010. The navy also wants to purchase combat patrol boats and other vessels to help secure the waters around Basra and in the Persian Gulf.

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