December 31, 2013

Naval Forces of the Republic of Iraq. On the Way Towards Independence

Andrey Pospelov, Candidate of historical sciences, Professor of the Department of Modern and Contemporary History of Odessa I. Mechnikov National University.

During an official visit to Baghdad, the Commander of the Naval Forces of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI Navy GIR) Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, was signed an Agreement on military cooperation between the Naval Forces of Iraq and Iran. On the part of the host country — the Republic of Iraq, the agreement was signed by the Iraqi Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ali Hussein Ali. The signed document, which has, in general, the nature of a declaration of intents, was about the expansion of cooperation between the Navies of the two countries, mutual visits of ships and joint trainings, as well as development of joint methods and tactics in the future. The parties expressed their intention to share engineering expertise in the repair, conservation and maintenance of maritime infrastructure. Following the visit, Ali Fadavi — one of the most influential military leaders in Iran, said that the Agreement would be the beginning of closer cooperation between the two countries in the Persian Gulf region.

Official emblem of the Iraqi Navy
Official emblem of the Iraqi Navy

Taking into consideration the historically extremely tense situation between Iraq and Iran over the last 40 years at least, it was actually impossible to imagine such a situation. Its unreality, even theoretical, was more than obvious, knowing almost total dependence of Iraq on the United States since 2003. To all this, serious, actually conflicted contradictions between Iran and its not only immediate neighbors, including the Republic of Iraq, but in the first place the West and the United States, did not help this.

Nevertheless, the Agreement was not just signed, but also received specific content in autumn 2013. Already on the 29th of September — 1st of October, 2013, Ali Hussein Ali, both Commanders of the Navies signed a special Memorandum of understanding on joint cooperation of Iraq and Iran in the Naval sphere. The document provides for the exchange of experiences, training, production of military equipment and naval cooperation in the Persian Gulf. During the meeting, the parties exchanged views on issues of mutual interest, and stressed the importance of strengthening and developing relations in the naval sphere and security, as well as welcomed further military cooperation. Ali Fadavi stressed the need for enhanced cooperation between the Navies of the two countries to strengthen security and stability in the region. In its turn, the Iraqi Commander said that the Iranian-Iraqi cooperation is beneficial to the people of the region. He added that Baghdad is ready to strengthen cooperation with Iran, especially in the naval sphere.

Iran's IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, and Commander of the Iraqi Navy, Vice Admiral Ali Hussein Ali. Tehran, October 1, 2013Iran's IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, and Commander of the Iraqi Navy, Vice Admiral Ali Hussein Ali

And although, by the end of 2013, between the Navies of the two countries there had been only one Command-Staff training (on the maps, at the beginning of December 2013), this set of events very clearly demonstrated one fact — the Naval Forces of the Republic of Iraq, revived after the war in 2003, actually found if not full, at least significant independence. So far it is too early to speak about the Iraqi Navy's finally having got rid of the custody and control of the United States. However, a whole series of different kinds of actions of the Iraqi authorities that took place in 2013, allows us to seriously state that the Armed Forces of the Republic of Iraq as a whole are gradually getting rid of foreign control and beginning to go their own way. Paradoxical as it might seem, the original initiators of such policies are the Naval Forces of the country. This fact may seem strange, but it was not only dictated, but also prepared by the whole previous situation.

Common problems of building of the Iraqi Navy and their organization

By March 2003, the Iraqi Navy numbered no more than 3,000 personnel and was the smallest kind of the country's Armed Forces. The defeat in the first Gulf War (17.01 — 28.02.1991) and international sanctions that followed, did not allow Saddam Hussein's government to develop the Navy component of the national Armed Forces. As a consequence, by the beginning of the operation “Shock and Awe”, the Iraqi Navy consisted of 4 Brigades of water region patrol ships, armed with not more than 25 units of obsolete ships and boats, of which only 1 missile boat and 5 patrol ships were theoretically capable to somehow resist the Anglo-American forces. In fact, however, the Navy of the country was not combat-ready, and more surprisingly, in the plans of the Iraqi Commandment they were actually not taken into consideration. This became clear in the Second Gulf War (20.03-1.05.2003), where the Iraqi Navy did not show itself at all and was destroyed.

As a result, by the end the Operation for Iraqi Freedom (“Iraqi Freedom” or “Shock and Awe”), the Iraqi Navy functionally did not exist. Its port infrastructure had not been seriously destroyed during the fighting of 2003 though, and immediately after the invasion it was used by the allies. Thus, the main Naval base and also Iraq's major port of Umm Qasr, already since March 23, 2003 had been used by American and British Forces as the main logistics center. The only, openly-positioned Iraqi port of Faw (al-Faw) on the eponymous peninsula, formed by the Euphrates and Shatt al-Arab Rivers flowing into the Persian Gulf, despite the preservation of the infrastructure, originally was not used by the allies. Much more important for them was to ensure the safety of Faw oil loading port infrastructure and two Iraqi offshore oil terminals: “Khawar Al Amaya Oil Terminal” (KAAOT) and “Al Basrah Oil Terminal” (ABOT) (old name was Mina Al-Bakr), directly related to the above-mentioned port.

British tank landing ship RFA L 3005 Sir Galahad at Umm Qasr in unloading. 2003British tank landing ship RFA L 3005 Sir Galahad at Umm Qasr in unloading

The importance of this problem was stressed by two related but opposite in nature factors. Firstly, the technical characteristics of the terminals did not meet modern requirements, since they could serve up only 5 tankers. At this, the equipment on them was largely either damaged or even “rusty”, but due to technical features of the design of these platforms, their modernization was useless. But this was not necessary, as during their normal work, the annual cost of the shipped through them crude oil was about 12 billion US dollars, or 80% from all exports of Iraq's oil. Secondly, due to the specifics of the shelf on which the platforms were located, building of similar structures next to them was not realistic either (at least in the period of 2003-2005), as well as their complete demolition and construction in their place of fundamentally new facilities. So, whether the American-British coalition liked it or not, but they had to use the existing terminals as they were. As well as to protect them.

Location of the Iraqi oil terminals and maritime borders of the countryLocation of the Iraqi oil terminals and maritime borders of the country

However, in the situation when the Iranian Navy is growing fast, especially in terms of providing it with the latest, high-speed boats and inconspicuous of both, the Iraqi and North Korean projects, and taking into consideration the instability of the political situation in the occupied country, the task of ensuring security of the strategically important and at the same time critical (mentioned above) maritime infrastructure of Iraq for various reasons had not been solved. Clear evidence of this served the attack, carried out in April 2004 on a platform of Khor Amaya, by pro-Iranian Shiite militants organization, during which two American Special Forces servicemen and an Iraqi volunteer were killed. At this, the terrorists managed to damage a piece of equipment and to leave unscathed.

Under these circumstances, in autumn of 2003, the US-British Commandment in Iraq concluded that it was necessary to revive the Navy of the defeated state. There were several reasons for this. Thus, American and British Forces in Iraq were able to patrol only the Northern part of the Persian Gulf by compounds of their warships deployed in the waters. At the same time, the border with Iran on the Shatt al-Arab River was patrolled by the U.S. and UK's Army units on assigned floating facilities (speedboats) — compounds of the 1st River Squadron.

As a result, two serious problems arose. Firstly, the quite significant water area, very difficult for navigation, stretching from the coast of Iraq itself to the areas of U.S. and UK’s patrolling by Navy ships, was completely open. Only Royal Navy minesweepers and boats of Kuwait's Navy could act here. But they were few and also for a number of purely political reasons, they could not remain permanently in Iraqi territorial waters. April, 2004 terrorist attack showed the vulnerability of this particular area. Secondly, USA and UK's motor boats had no chance to withstand against the whole Iranian River Flotilla. If we add to this the actual failure of the program of creation of littoral ships in the USA, become clear allies' motives that prompted them to reconstruct the Iraqi Navy. Another important factor is the desire to support the shipbuilding firms in the USA and Italy, both, for domestic economic reasons, and in view of the political situation in and around Iraq.

Naturally, the creation of powerful Iraqi Navy, which took place during the reign of Saddam Hussein, and equipped by ships and boats with missile weapons and amphibious forces, as well as a powerful naval aviation, was out of the question. The main form of using the new Iraqi Navy was supposed to be patrolling the Shatt al-Arab, and the Northern part of the Gulf at a distance of 12 miles at the beginning and then — 150-200 miles from the coast. That is, up to zone of deployment of the U.S. and their allies' Navy Forces. The only opponent of Iraqi Navy seemed only light Naval Forces of Iran and in peacetime. The main tasks of the new Iraqi Navy were as follows: to prevent penetration into Iraqi territory from the sea of arms and drug smuggling, militants from various terrorist organizations based in the territory of Iran or supported by Tehran; protection of critical marine oil export infrastructure, above all, of openly located terminals. Less relevant, but politically important were the tasks to ensure normal operation of navigation in the territorial waters of the Republic of Iraq. At this, building of new Iraqi Navy was to be done in close cooperation with the relevant structures of the USA and the UK and under their control and advisory supervision through the Maritime and Riverine Advisory Support Team (M&R AST) as well as through the NATO Training Mission-1 in Iraq.

The first step in this direction was the creation in January 2004 of the Iraqi Coastal Defense Force — ICDF. Their combat strength had to include a squadron of five Taiwanese construction patrol boats (about this — later) and a battalion of infantry to protect the coast and oil platforms. The total number of the ICDF was originally 214 volunteers. Since January 2004, they began a three-month training course in a training camp. On April 21, 2004 Iraqi volunteers began to receive technical training also in the significantly modernized Umm Qasr. On the 19th of August they were formed into 5 major and 3 replacement crew patrol boats, that made two training goings out into the sea. Finally, October 1, 2004 Iraqi Coastal Defense Forces started regular patrols of the assigned to them zones both, in the remaining from the old Iraqi Navy boats, and on given to them by Americans more modern boats. Simultaneously was created the Iraqi River Patrol Service — IRPS, the material basis of which became available small size boats stationed in Basra (some of them were built in 1930s), and given by Americans and Brits modern high-speed vessels.

However, it was only a half-measure, so on January 12, 2005 the Iraqi Navy was created (or recreated) officially. Officially its number was established 1,500 sailors and 800 marines, and recruitment was to take place on a strictly voluntary basis. So that the country's Navy Commandment and its British and American curators could choose for service in the Armed Forces worthy representatives of the Iraqi society, the monthly average salary for them was set at 1,000 US dollars. At the same time, for the Iraqi Navy personnel was developed a system of benefits, the most significant of which were associated with the possibility to get higher military technical education in the degree of Bachelor, Master, PhD student during one's military service.

However, in the way of normal development of the new Iraqi Navy were a number of political and legal aspects. In fact, since August 1990, had not been actually settled the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border dispute, especially regarding the Khawr Abd Allah and fairways that provide normal passage of ships to the ports of Umm Qasr and Khor Al-Zubair. Moreover, in March 1991, Umm Qasr was officially handed over to Kuwait as part of a compensation for its material losses during the Iraqi occupation of the country (02.08.1990 — 28.02.1991). But before March 2003 Kuwait had not tenured Umm Qasr. At this, immediately after the capture by U.S. Forces of this Iraqi port, it was turned into a huge camp for Iraqi prisoners of war and terrorists — Camp Bucca. As a result, the settlement of the whole range of legal issues around Umm Qasr lasted almost 3 years.

November 11, 2008 Iraq's Navy Commander Rear Admiral Mohammad Javad at the main Naval base in Kuwait, Ras al-Kalayh signed a historic document Khawr Abd Allah Protocols or “KAA Protocols”, which legally settled the question of the Khawr Abd Allah (preliminary agreement on signing was reached on May 8, 2008 on board the British frigate F87 HMS “Chatam”. The basis for the Protocols was the concept developed by officers of the Royal British Navy, first of all by the lawyer of the Royal Marines, Major David Hammond. This concept provided for creation of Combined Task Force 158, designed for operating in the Northern Gulf and especially in the territorial waters of the Republic of Iraq. The main task of Compound 158 was supposed to be protection of oil terminals and Iraqi territorial waters, including in the area of ​​the port-city of Basra. Besides, the Protocols legally designated ways of settling disputes that could arise between the military and naval authorities of Iraq and Kuwait in the Khawr Abd Allah waterway and adjacent territorial waters of the two countries.

Realistically, new Navy of the Republic of Iraq had to become (and actually became) Combined Task Force 158. Despite its theoretically independent status, it, as well as the Navy of Kuwait, was operatively subordinated to the Joint US Central Commandment, with Headquarters in Bahrain's capital Manama. At this, the shared use of the Navies of Iraq and Kuwait was supposed to take place, according to the plans of American and British Naval Commandment in case of aggravation of the international situation in the Northern Gulf. As a potential enemy was considered exceptionally the fast growing Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in particular, its “mosquito” or “terrorist” fleet.

However, unlike the Navy of Kuwait, American Admirals did not allow to create the striking component within the new Iraqi Navy. In view of this, the main functions of the new Iraqi Navy had become: patrolling the country's territorial waters and in the future — a 200-mile economic zone; ensuring favorable operating conditions for trade, especially tanker navigation in these waters; protection of oil production and export infrastructure of Iraq near the country's sea coast, primarily in the Faw peninsula; patrolling the border with Iran on the Shatt al–Arab River, from its mouth to Basra (more than 90 km) in order to stop infiltration into the country of smuggle goods; protection of Iraqi (British and American) interests in the River waters and the delta of the above-mentioned River.

Since the new Iraqi Navy had mainly to patrol in the territorial waters and the 200-mile economic zone of the country, almost all of their combat strength had to be concentrated at the Umm Qasr Naval Base. The reason for this was the fact that unlike Basra, Faw and Khor al-Zubair port, Umm Qasr during the 2003 war suffered much less. From September 2003 to 2010 the USA invested into the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Umm Qasr about 100 million US dollars, having created in its territory a training center for the Iraqi Navy (into Khor al-Zubair alone — 30 million dollars). At this, in the situation of the beginning of the normal functioning of other ports of the Republic of Iraq, Umm Qasr as the only or main center of logistics of the allied occupation forces, gradually sidelined. Especially considering withdrawal from Iraq in 2009 of the British, and in 2011 of American troops. As a result, December 2, 2011 Umm Qasr Naval base was finally given by the United States to Iraq, although since April 30, 2010 Iraqi Navy had fully adopted the functions of its protection.

Port infrastructure of the Republic of IraqPort infrastructure of the Republic of Iraq

Nevertheless, in view of the exceptional strategic importance of Umm Qasr, its upgrading by US forces continued. On the 25th of June, 2010, between the Commandment of the Iraqi Navy and the US Army Corps of Engineers was signed a contract worth up to 25 million US dollars (Funded by US Foreign Military Financing), on additional modernization of Umm Qasr Navy base, now with taking into consideration the basing at it of the main forces of the Iraqi Navy. By October 25, 2013, most of the work had been done. As a result, the Umm Qasr Naval base had been greatly expanded, especially for basing of the fast growing fleet of Iraqi patrol boats. Was commissioned a new, about 165 m long, floating pier, attached to the existing concrete pier. Dredging works (the volume of 900,000 cubic meters) resulted in the new pier being able to accept vessels with a draft of 6 m. At the same time were built new modern port facilities of the modern type, thanks to which fact, by November 2013 in Umm Qasr could be concentrated all operational units of the Iraqi Navy: 3 Divisions of patrol ships and boats (5 units each), Division of auxiliary vessels (4 units) and Division of speedboats for special purposes (more than 10 units). However, the created infrastructure allows to base the fleet at least twice as numerous.

View of the modernized Umm Qasr Naval Base: new dam and a new floating pier can be seenView of the modernized Umm Qasr Naval Base: new dam and a new floating pier can be seen

In Basra, in January 2005, were recreated Headquarters of the Naval Forces of Iraq, with the structures of control and auxiliary subunits. The Arab Academy for Maritime Research (The Arab Gulf Maritime Academy) also restarted its work there — the only institution of higher education in Iraq for training maritime professionals of all specialties (mostly civilians).

By the beginning of 2013, the total strength of the Iraqi Navy had reached 5,000 naval personnel and military marines. The revived Marines of Iraq, consisting of 3 battalions (2 in Umm Qasr and 1 in Basra) was not intended to participate in amphibious operations — Navy amphibious forces in Iraq were not supposed to be. Its main function is defense of naval bases, ports and oil infrastructure (50 people at each oil platform) on the coast of the country, as well as use as a boarding party on patrol ships and boats of the Iraqi Navy. All vessels of the Iraqi Navy have been built with taking into consideration dislocation of the Marines.