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Coalition Forces Watch Over Iraq's Oil Platforms

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Coalition Forces Watch Over Iraq's Oil Platforms

Iraq

Coalition Forces Watch Over Iraq's Oil Platforms

Coalition Forces Watch Over Iraq's Oil Platforms

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5409925/5409988" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Sailor watches over Iraqi oil platforms i

A sailor aboard the USS Lake Champlain watches the horizon as coalition forces oil platforms off the southern coast of Iraq. Jackie Northam, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jackie Northam, NPR
Sailor watches over Iraqi oil platforms

A sailor aboard the USS Lake Champlain watches the horizon as coalition forces oil platforms off the southern coast of Iraq.

Jackie Northam, NPR
Tankers and Iraqi oil platforms i

Tankers nuzzle up to oil platforms off the southern coast of Iraq. Jackie Northam, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jackie Northam, NPR
Tankers and Iraqi oil platforms

Tankers nuzzle up to oil platforms off the southern coast of Iraq.

Jackie Northam, NPR
Sailor and USS Lake Champlain i

Sailors stand ready to fire on the USS Lake Champlain. Jackie Northam, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jackie Northam, NPR
Sailor and USS Lake Champlain

Sailors stand ready to fire on the USS Lake Champlain.

Jackie Northam, NPR

In the southern waters off Iraq, the patrol ship USS Whirlwind keeps a constant vigil over two offshore oil-transfer platforms that are indispensable to Iraq. Some sailors call them the crown jewels.

The oil platforms bear the scars of a turbulent history: bullet holes and other damage from the Iran-Iraq war and also from the first Gulf War.

U.S. naval personnel work together with Iraqi marines to protect the oil platforms. On the al-Bashrah oil terminal, known as ABOT, the Iraqis live in a large building at one end called the White House, which has sleeping quarters and a mess hall. At the other end of the platform, the Americans live in converted cargo containers, piled three high. Their meals are sent over from the main ship. The Internet is intermittent, and the platforms are fully exposed to the ferocious heat.

Capt. Chris Noble, head of the joint task force in the area, says it's a grueling assignment, but security of the terminals is essential to Iraq's future. Noble says that 85 percent of Iraq's oil — the essence of the country's economy —- currently flows through the ABOT platform.

"The main product they have to offer the rest of the global community is this oil," Noble says. "And the pretty much established figure is around $10 billion worth a year comes out of there."

Noble says there are more than a dozen rehearsed contingency plans for attacks against the two platforms, by air or sea. It's not solely an American effort. A joint force that includes British and Australian units also helps secure the platforms and train the Iraqi navy.

In addition to protecting the terminals from terrorists and suicide bombers, the forces also have their eyes on the Iranian navy, which often intrudes several hundred yards into Iraqi waters.

Captain Pat Roane of the USS Lake Champlain says that coalition forces regularly have to tell the Iranian navy to back off.

"We're working international law," Roane says. "We're working with a coalition to say that's where the border is, don't take advantage of turmoil in Iraq to use that to Iran's advantage."

Captain Roane won't say when coalition naval forces will allow the Iraqi navy to take control of its own waters. The area is too unstable, he says, and the oil platforms too important to Iraq.

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