Video - Basra, Iraq - As the British military prepares the handover of security of the entire Basra Province to the Iraqi Security Forces, a new focus is being placed on Iraq’s southernmost region. Nabeel Kamal traveled there to interview Basra’s Marines, Navy, and other security forces in charge of protecting Iraq’s borders from smugglers, pirates, and terrorists.
Basra’s Shalamja Port is a major entry point to Iraq for many travels from the Gulf and other Arab countries, as well as Iran. It is also a major hub of activity from smugglers and pirates. Being Iraq’s only access to the sea, it’s stability is a strategic necessity for Iraq’s longterm security. Iraq’s Navy has in the past, and is now beginning again, to serve that purpose.
Originally founded in 1937, primarily as a river force, it was not until after the Revolution of 1968 that Iraq began to constitute a strong naval force, with the ability to exert influence in the Gulf. Initially after the war, the Coalition Forces created the Iraqi Coastal Defense Force, which in 2005 was renamed the Iraqi Navy. Some of Iraq’s reconstituted Naval force has come from far afield to finally begin duty patrolling Iraq’s waters.
While General Al-Hassani and his marines are chasing smugglers and pirates, on the seas, men such as Major Amjad Hassan Jama’i are manning the offices of Iraq’s Border Police. The police at the Shalamja border crossing deal with 3500 or more visitors arriving daily during the summer holidays, and several hundred on average days.
While smuggling and militia activity run rampant, these men have their work cut out for them. In Basra some reports say that the local security forces have taken over with minimal violence and instability. Others report that neighboring countries are still causing difficulties in Iraq’s southern metropolis. The men at the Shalamja crossing tell us that their border posts are far afield from the urban center of the city proper, and that some of their greatest difficulties lie in their lack of infrastructure. Away from the ports, on the open seas off Iraq’s coast, the US Navy itself said last month that they will maintain a presence to guard Iraq’s oil exports for the foreseeable future. Men such as General Hassani and Major Jama’i will be left to protect the rest of Iraq’s valuable imports and exports, of material and citizens.
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