UMM QASR, Iraq (Feb. 17, 2010) -- As part of the effort by the government of Iraq to increase the stability and international standing of the country, the Iraqi Navy officially welcomed two new ships to its fleet during a ceremony along the country's southern coast Feb. 14.

In 2008, Iraq was the world's 13th-largest oil producer, with 75 percent of the nation's gross domestic product and 86 percent of the government's revenue coming from oil exports.

Eighty-five percent of the Iraqi oil exports go through the ports of Umm Qasr and Basrah, making their security a vital piece of the puzzle when discussing economic and overall stability of the nation.

The primary mission of the two newest ships will be improving the security of the two key ports, officials said.

In a ceremony complete with a demonstration by Iraqi divers and the ritual slaughter of goats for good luck, the Majed 703 and Shomokh 704, both patrol boats purchased from Italy, were christened in the Umm Qasr port before assuming their roles protecting Iraq's ports and coastline.

Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, the United States Forces-Iraq deputy commanding general for advising and training, said the ships are another step in the right direction for Iraqi stability and for the ports to meet international standards for security.

"This is a great day for the Iraqi Navy; this will help them operate and secure their own oil platforms," Barbero said. "This is another step toward allowing them to be self-sufficient, another step for them to assume their rightful role here."

Even though Iraq only has 35 miles of coastline, Barbero said the direction the nation goes hinges on what happens in its port cities.

"This is the lifeblood of Iraq. It is absolutely essential to the future of this country."

Up next for the ships and their crews is a trip across the Atlantic Ocean to Louisiana for additional training and familiarization in preparation for their heavy responsibility.

The Iraqi Navy was almost completely destroyed during the 1991A,A Gulf War. Nineteen ships were sunk and six were damaged. The Navy was not rebuilt during the 1990s and played no role during the 2003 invasion.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16