Iraqi Navy Casts Off in Defense of Coastal Waters
By Chief Petty Officer Joe Kane, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
UMM QASR, Iraq, Oct. 4, 2004 The Iraqi Coastal Defense Force took official responsibility for protecting the country's coastline Sept. 30 at a ribbon-cutting and pass-in-review ceremony at the port of Umm Qasr.
Five Iraqi Coastal Defense Force boats in operation in southern Iraq
sail past the port of Umm Qasr. Photo by Paul A. Barrow
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Senior Iraqi officials and members of the multinational forces attended the ceremony, witnessing an honor salute from the new fleet as the ships cruised by the VIP stand.
"Iraqis have taken responsibility for protecting territorial waters today, and actual work will begin tomorrow," said Iraqi Col. Hameed Balafam, commander of the Coastal Defense Force.
The ICDF begins operations Oct. 1, protecting Iraq's coastal territories and ensuring the security of Iraq's offshore oil wells and installations. The southern port of Iraq is the exit point for most of the country's oil exports.
"Our first mission will be to protect oil ports in Basra and Khor al-Amaya from saboteurs and infiltrators," said Balafam. "I'm fully confident because most of the Iraqi Coastal Defense Force personnel are from the former Iraqi navy and I'm confident about their skills."
The training of the ICDF began in January using a combination of instructors from the multinational forces including the British navy and marines, and the U.S., Australian, and Netherlands' navies. With a force of 412 personnel, the ICDF is slightly more than 100 percent manned, with their original goal set at 409. Training included courses on basic seamanship, firefighting, and boarding operations.
"Maybe some of the training courses we knew already," said Balafam. "But we have new information about ship handling, seamanship, navigation and navigating in narrow water."
Balafam said new equipment like global positioning systems and improvements in radar have improved the capability of the ICDF. The force has a relatively new fleet, which includes 33 rigid-hull inflatable boats and fast aluminum speedboats, and five 27- meter Chinese-made Predator gunboats.
The captain of gunboat P104 said the goal is to rebuild the Iraqi Coastal Defense Force. "Now we have new vessels better than the previous ones. We are not afraid. We volunteered to protect our country and, God willing, it will be all right," he said.
Like many of the new ICDF volunteers, the captain of P104 was a member of the former regime's navy. But now that the rebuilding is taking place, recruits have signed up from all over Iraq.
"Most of them are from the south -- Basra and Nasiriyah and Maysan," said Balafam. "But also some are from Baghdad and Kut and Hillah. When we opened for recruiting, it is for everybody -- it's not just here. Anyone who wants to join the Coastal Defense Force can come from everywhere in Iraq."
Army Brig. Gen. James Schwitters, commanding general of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team, attended the ceremony and commented that ICDF personnel have shown the ability to perform well.
"Certainly they've proven to be excellent seamen. They know the waters; they know the language; they know the local threats and concerns, so I'm very confident," Schwitters said. "It's just the beginning."
(Navy Chief Petty Officer Joe Kane is assigned to Multinational Security and Transitional Command Iraq.)