Baghdad: Iraq is seeking to acquire surveillance drones to help protect its oil pipelines and platforms, which are key to the country's economy, Iraqi and US officials said.

An Iraqi oil ministry spokesman said authorities were in contact with Chinese and US firms to provide the drones, which he said may or may not be armed, but a US official said Baghdad had already agreed to buy American aircraft.

"There is collaboration with the interior ministry to update monitoring systems in contact with Chinese and American companies that specialise in this area, to provide the energy police with modern drones," ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said.

Jihad said the drones would be "equipped with high-tech monitoring equipment to protect platforms and pipelines."

"It has not been decided yet if the drones will be armed or not," he added.

An official from the US Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I) said, however, that "Iraq's navy has purchased US drones to protect the country's oil platforms in the south, from where most of Iraq's oil is shipped."

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to provide further details on the purchase.

OSC-I is composed of about 157 US military personnel under embassy authority and some 600 contractors, who are assisting Iraq in fielding military equipment and in training.

Oil sales account for 95 percent of Iraq's government income, and the majority of the country's crude is exported via its platforms in the Gulf, while its pipelines are frequently targeted by saboteurs.


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