Iraq has just two ports, Umm Qasr and Az Zubayr, in the south near Basra. Combined they generate 97% of the nation's revenue. Both are connected to the Persian Gulf by the polluted Shatt Al Arab waterway, which in lawless recent years has become a major artery for smugglers sneaking weapons, livestock and crude oil to and from Iran.Cracking down on these smugglers is a major priority of coalition and Iraqi forces. To this end, the Iraqi Navy patrols the Gulf end of the waterway in Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats and Fast Aluminum Boats -- that is, when they've got enough diesel fuel and spares for their boats' motors. British Army Royal Engineers attached to 20 Armored Brigade employ similar craft to patrol the waterway between the coalition's two major downtown Basra bases, while infantry conduct foot patrols and man observation posts along the banks to spot smugglers' mooring points.Elsewhere in Iraq, the U.S. military -- having abandoned so-called brown-water warfare after Vietnam -- has found itself ill-prepared to conduct these kinds of waterway patrols, leading to ad hoc measures like arming engineer boats normally used for emplacing ribbon bridges. The Navy's new riverine force, recently stood up at Little Creek, Virginia, will eventually take over from units pressed into river patrol duty, hopefully with the positive results you'd expect of a dedicated force.It's just another example of relearning in Iraq lessons we forgot after Vietnam.--David Axe
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