The United States is to provide Iraq with technical support to help it secure its oil export infrastructure, which accounts for the lion's share of government revenues, officials said Wednesday.
The cooperation comes with Baghdad looking to dramatically ramp up crude sales to fund much-needed reconstruction of its conflict-battered economy, but facing repeated attacks on its pipeline infrastructure, including one on Wednesday.
"Iraq and the United States are embarking on a significant new area of cooperation by having experts from the US Departments of Energy and State work with Iraq to develop approaches to protect Iraq's energy infrastructure from terrorist attack or natural disaster," a joint energy committee said after Baghdad talks.
Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, Iraq's top minister responsible for energy affairs, said the cooperation would not involve any foreign troops and would instead be focused on studies being carried out and new equipment being acquired.
"Because of the security situation in the region... Iraq has been subjected to several terrorist attacks against oil installations, especially the crude oil pipelines in the north of Iraq," Shahristani said at a news conference.
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"We need modern equipment and methods to protect these pipelines, as well as our southern installations, refineries and export ports. ... (The agreement) is to help develop the methods and use the modern equipment for protecting these sites."
He added: "The protection (duties) will be in the hands of Iraq, and Iraq will not be assisted by any foreign soldier in carrying out this plan."
Both exports and revenues declined in 2013 compared to the previous year despite efforts to increase sales, a drop attributed by the oil ministry to periods of bad weather and poor maintenance, but also to sabotage against the country's main northern pipeline.
On Wednesday, militants bombed a pipeline sending refined products from the town of Baiji to Baghdad, officials said. The blast did not cause any casualties, but forced pumping to be stopped.
Overall production averaged 3.07 million barrels per day in December, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), while exports averaged 2.34 million bpd , oil ministry figures showed.
Officials aim to increase capacity from 3.2 million bpd now to nine million bpd by 2017, a target both the IEA and the International Monetary Fund have warned is overly optimistic.