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BAGHDAD, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Iraq plans to use drones to monitor and protect its oil export and production pipelines from the first quarter of 2018, an oil ministry spokesman said on Monday.
Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi has asked the ministry to seek out professional security companies that can supply Iraq with drones and sophisticated camera systems to protect its pipelines, spokesman Asim Jihad said.
Luaibi last week announced plans to build a network of pipelines which will carry crude oil and refined products across all its territory, as an alternative to expensive and hazardous transport by tanker trucks.
The use of drones to monitor pipelines is common in advanced energy producing countries but a new step for Iraq which has seen attacks from insurgents on pipelines since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein.
"We will use drones and advanced surveillance systems to protect oil pipelines from any attacks or deliberate sabotage acts. The minister ordered the use of the drone system as of the first quarter of the coming year," Jihad told reporters.
The only international crude pipeline now in operation in Iraq links the northern, semi-autonomous Kurdish region to Turkey's Mediterranean coast.
The country had more pipelines in the past --to Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia -- but they were shut down or destroyed as a result of wars and conflicts.
OPEC's second-largest oil producer, after Saudi Arabia, Iraq depends on oil sales for about 95 percent of its government income. The country exported about 3.5 million barrels per day on average in November.
Luaibi will be visiting Algeria in mid-January and meeting with his counterpart and state-run Algerian energy company Sonatrach, which has expressed interest in investing in Iraq, Jihad also said.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein. Editing by Jane Merriman)