Iraq plans to deploy the latest surveillance technology to protect pipelines transporting crude oil and other petroleum products from vandalism and theft, officials tell Diyaruna.
The government’s move is part of a series of measures to prevent "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) remnants from targeting state resources or opening up a stream of revenue, they said.
"The project hopefully will start during the first quarter of the new year, after agreements with the relevant companies are reached," oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told Diyaruna.
The project would introduce high-end technologies to allow better surveillance of pipelines transporting crude oil and petroleum products that stretch across thousands of kilometres, he said.
"There will be an integrated protection system that includes state-of-the-art cameras and drones in addition to remote sensors to immediately detect any breaches on the pipelines," he added.
A plan to protect pipelines
Oil Minister Jabbar Ali al-Luaibi has tasked the energy protection task force and national oil companies with devising a plan to protect pipelines throughout the country, particularly those in the liberated areas.
"Oil smuggling operations by ISIS have stopped after the group was defeated and the areas under their control liberated," Jihad said.
"Today, we are seeking to reinforce our preventative measures in order to thwart any terrorist attempt to smuggle or steal Iraq’s oil or vandalise its pipelines," he said.
The Oil Ministry is currently working towards rehabilitating the pipelines and all oil projects that were adversely affected by ISIS, Jihad said.
Despite the challenges, which include landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by ISIS, "we are making good progress to rebuild our energy infrastructure", he said.
"We have fixed and reopened several pipelines and energy plants at record speed," he added. "We are on a mission to rebuild and develop the oil sector within the framework of our national reconstruction and development strategy."
ISIS threat largely contained
The smuggling and sale of crude and refined oil has been a key source of income for ISIS in the past.
But the group's oil smuggling operations began to decline in mid 2015, when the international coalition began striking convoys of ISIS tankers, and as the group was ousted from oil-rich areas where major energy plants were located.
The vandalism of pipelines and theft of oil have largely ceased, but the threat has not been completely eliminated, officials said.
"ISIS is no more in Iraq, but this does not mean the end of sleeper cells targeting oil pipelines," economist Basem Jamil Antoine told Diyaruna.
"These [cells] might resort to vandalism so as to disrupt the flow of crude oil or small scale smuggling operations to finance their operations," he said.
Tightening security around the pipelines is a "positive step to cut off any chance for terrorists to undermine the country’s economy or open a source of funding", Antoine said.
The government's actions are "necessary for the protection of the wins achieved against ISIS", said Iraqi MP Zaher al-Abbadi, who serves on the parliamentary committee for oil and energy.
Going forward, it will be important for Iraq to use modern technology to "protect and surveil the country’s oil pipelines and infrastructure against destructive terrorist attacks as well as theft and smuggling", he told Diyaruna.
"The government is obligated to take any preventative measure that it sees fit to protect our oil reserves from falling in the hands of terrorists or allowing them to destabilise or damage this vital sector," al-Abbadi said.