updated 6/9/2004 12:19:36 PM ET 2004-06-09T16:19:36

Saboteurs blew up an important oil pipeline Wednesday, forcing authorities to cut output on the national power grid by 10 percent, police and Iraqi officials said.

The blast occurred about 9:30 a.m. near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, said Col. Sarhat Qadir of the Kirkuk police.

Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told Dow Jones Newswires that the attack would not affect exports from the northern oil fields. However, Jihad said the blast cut supplies to the Beiji electric power station, forcing a reduction of 400 megawatts.

Iraq now produces about 4,000 megawatts of power. Cuts in the country now last more than 16 hours a day, making it difficult to cope with soaring heat which is already topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The U.S.-run coalition had made its ability to guarantee adequate electricity supplies a benchmark of success in restoring normalcy to Iraq. However, sabotage and frayed infrastructure have impeded efforts to eliminate power outages, especially in the capital.

U.S. officials say the regime of Saddam Hussein had diverted power from other parts of the country to keep the lights on in the capital and that many areas of Iraq have more stable supplies than under the previous government.

Coalition officials fear that insurgents may step up attacks on infrastructure targets in the run-up to the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to undermine public confidence both in the U.S. occupation authority and the new regime.

Iraq’s oil pipelines are frequently attacked. Iraq exports some 1.65 million barrels per day from the south and another 200,000 barrels per day from the north through Turkey.

In May, a main southern export pipeline was set ablaze in the Faw peninsula, stopping the flow of crude oil through one of the lines feeding the Basra oil terminal, a key export point. That attack forced Iraq to reduce exports to 1.1 million barrels a day from the south at a time when oil markets are highly concerned about tight supplies.

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