Iraq inaugurated the first in a fleet of new patrol boats on Sunday, part of efforts to boost its naval capacity and secure key oil platforms ahead of a US withdrawal at the end of next year.
The rapid build-up of the Iraqi navy is seen as crucial to protecting the terminals, through which the vast majority of the country's crude is exported, with oil accounting for around 95% of government income.
In a ceremony at Umm Qasr Naval Base, around 500 kilometers south of Baghdad, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Obeidi and US Vice Admiral Kevin McCoy made speeches commemorating the new vessel's inauguration.
Lieutenant General Michael Barbero, the top American commander responsible for training Iraq's security forces, was also in attendance.
Crews for the high-speed patrol boats are currently being trained in the United States, where they were manufactured, with 15 ultimately set to be delivered to Iraq.
At present, the Iraqi navy has 47 vessels, according to a US army spokeswoman. It currently handles on-site and perimeter defense for the Khor al-Amiya oil terminal, and on-site defense for the Al-Basra oil terminal, 10 kilometers away from each other, 100 kilometers off the port of Umm Qasr and sandwiched between Iranian and Kuwaiti waters.
Some 80% of Iraq's oil exports pass through the two, with three more set to be added by the end of next year as the country seeks to ramp up oil exports by as much as five times. By that time, when US forces will have had to completely withdraw from the country per the terms of a bilateral security pact, Iraq will be solely responsible for all security at the platforms.