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Saboteurs strike Iraq's oil pipelines

Saboteurs drilled holes into a key southern pipeline in Iraq, causing pools of oil to spill on either side of the line, police said Thursday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Saboteurs damaged oil pipelines at separate sites in Iraq's north and south while insurgents gunned down an officer with the state-run oil company Thursday amid a series of attacks on the country's most vital industry.

The trouble on the southern line -- one of two key export pipelines -- occurred in the al-Askari district, 12 miles southwest of Basra, said Staff Brig. Gen. Ali al-Mousawi, the head of the Iraqi Border Police. Saboteurs drilled holes into the pipeline and authorities suspected that the damage was caused by smugglers.

The pipelines runs to offshore export terminals, but it was not immediately clear if oil exports were affected.

The damage to the pipeline comes a little more than a week after exports were cut in half by damage to the smaller of the two export pipelines which, together, transport about 90 percent of the country's exports.

That line was repaired July 7, after a roughly five-day outage that reduced exports from the south to just 960,000 barrels a day. Iraq exports between 1. 7 million to 1.8 million barrels per day of crude from the south. Exports of about 250,000 barrels per day from the oil-rich region around Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan have run only sporadically because of repeated bombings to that line.

The southern lines have also been repeatedly targeted by saboteurs over the past few weeks, and one attack last month halted exports for about a week.

Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has said the attacks over the past few weeks have cost the country about US$1 billion in lost revenue.

Oil security officer killed
Insurgents frequently target the country's oil infrastructure and officials who administer them in a bid to undermine the new government's reconstruction efforts, which largely hinge on oil revenue.

A North Oil Company police officer guarding a checkpoint near a northern pipeline was killed by unknown gunmen late Wednesday night, said Maj. Mohammed Ahmed of the Kirkuk police.

The officer, who was not identified, was gunned down at in Riyad, about 50 miles southwest of Kirkuk.

About 20 miles further south, a feeder pipeline that runs from the northern oil fields to the Beiji refinery was also breached Thursday morning, police said. But the problem was not expected to affect operations at the refinery which sits about 125 miles north of Baghdad and is fed by other feeder lines.

Interior Ministry officials in the capital said the line was damaged as a result of an explosion, but Iraqi National Guard officials in the north said the source of the damage was not yet known.

"The fire is now out," said Brig. Anwar Mohammed. Witnesses at the scene reported that pools of crude oil surrounded the pipeline and that smoke continued to billow from the line, though flames were no longer visible.