Iraq stopped pumping oil from its key southern oil fields Monday because of the violence plaguing the region during a renewed Shiite uprising, an official with the South Oil Company said.
About 1.8 million barrels per day, or 90 percent of Iraq’s exports, move through Iraq’s southern port of Basra, and any shutdown in the flow of Iraq’s main money earner would badly hamper reconstruction efforts.
A senior official with the oil company, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the southern oil fields stopped pumping oil Monday after militants loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to target the oil infrastructure in Basra.
Oil in storage tanks at the port was still being loaded onto tankers, the official said. The British military, which patrols Basra, said it had no reports on the shutdown.
Al-Sadr’s militants have been fighting coalition and Iraqi forces for five days in Shiite areas across the country.
Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said he could not confirm the shutdown, but added that any attacks on oil infrastructure would only hurt the interests of the Iraqi people.
“The oil industry is run by Iraqis now and for the sake of Iraqis, this wealth belongs to the Iraqi people and the government’s budget relies on it for nearly 95 percent (of its money),” he said. “The only ones that will be affected will be the Iraqi citizens.”