INSURGENTS KEEP UP ATTACKS ON VULNERABLE IRAQI PIPELINES:[THIRD Edition]
Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff. Boston Globe. Boston, Mass.: Nov 27, 2003. pg. A.1
Insurgents have been striking almost weekly against a labyrinth of pumping stations and hundreds of miles of pipelines that snake through the desolate plains and rugged hills of northern Iraq, bearing crude oil exports to the Turkish port city of Ceyhan. The attacks have all but shut down the flow of 850,000 barrels of exported crude that coursed through Kirkuk's hub of pipelines each day before the war, US and Iraqi officials say. The sabotage also has robbed the occupation of revenues that the United States hoped would defray the vast cost of rebuilding postwar Iraq - and as if to highlight the campaign against the petroleum industry, insurgents fired rockets at the Oil Ministry in Baghdad last week from a donkey cart. Wire services said yesterday witnesses reported a large fire from a pipeline north of Baghdad, 30 miles from the country's largest refinery, although coalition officials said the fire may have been a lit pool of oil spilled previously. This article is relevant because it talks about the forces that are against the US inside Iraq—the forces that are coming from Iraqi insurgents, resentful of American presence.
Copyright New York Times Company Nov 27, 2003
KIRKUK, Iraq - Three successive explosions rattled the windows at the Northern Oil Company on a recent afternoon. Within minutes, several American contractors and Iraqi executives rushed out to start assessing the damage from yet another attack on Iraq's oil pipelines.
Insurgents have been striking almost weekly against a labyrinth of pumping stations and hundreds of miles of pipelines that snake through the desolate plains and rugged hills of northern Iraq, bearing crude oil exports to the Turkish port city of Ceyhan. The attacks have all but shut down the flow of 850,000 barrels of exported crude that coursed through Kirkuk's hub of pipelines each day before the war, US and Iraqi officials say.
Describing the vulnerability of the pipelines, Ali, a 32-year- old former Iraqi army sergeant turned resistance fighter, recently put it this way: "The truth is there is very little they can do to stop us. We can hit them every day if we want to."
The sabotage also has robbed the occupation of revenues that the United States hoped would defray the vast cost of rebuilding postwar Iraq - and as if to highlight the campaign against the petroleum industry, insurgents fired rockets at the Oil Ministry in Baghdad last week from a donkey cart. Wire services said yesterday witnesses reported a large fire from a pipeline north of Baghdad, 30 miles from the country's largest refinery, although coalition officials said the fire may have been a lit pool of oil spilled previously.
Washington's reconstruction strategy counts on an expected $50 billion in oil export revenue for Iraq over the next three years, but the sabotage, combined with extensive damage to infrastructure from neglect and looting, means the earnings are likely to fall far short of American predictions.
The pipelines are the focal point of a dangerous cops-and- robbers drama involving anti-US insurgents and the US and Iraqi forces trying to hunt them down.
Ali, the former soldier who said he was a demolition specialist in the Iraqi army, said that he has been training insurgents to prepare explosive devices to sabotage the pipeline - and that his group had bombed it 25 to 30 times. Speaking on the terrace of an apartment building in the northern town of Ba'iji as the gas- burnoff flame of an oil refinery flickered far in the distance, Ali said he was part of a broad-based resistance effort against the US- led occupation. Ali, who appeared nervous during an hours-long interview and was reached through a mutual contact who has known him for years, spoke to the Globe on condition that his full name not be used.
"This is Iraqi oil for the Iraqi people. America came saying that it would kick out Saddam, but they never got Saddam and instead began stealing our oil. So this is why we are fighting, and this is why we will hit directly at what they want most - our oil," said Ali, his face covered in a red-and-white checkered keffiyeh.
Ali said the insurgency included some former Iraqi military and security officers loyal to Saddam Hussein, as well as some foreign fighters. But he said the ranks of the resistance increasingly include former soldiers who, like himself, profess no loyalty to Hussein but who are frustrated with the occupation and determined to fight it.
"There is no one name" to the opposition, Ali said; it has many small groups acting on their own. He said he was part of a small group around Ba'iji, which sits halfway between the vast oil fields of northern Iraq and the large refineries in Baghdad. He said the groups are often aided by members of the Bedouin tribes that live in the remote areas where the pipeline is most vulnerable.
"We watch for spots where they are lacking security. We have also watched which spots they repair, and then we strike that same spot again. This is all very simple. They can never protect the pipeline," Ali said, smiling.
Chasing such shadowy suspects is far from easy.
"We have a serious problem here," said Manna al-Ubeidi, deputy director of the Northern Oil Company. "The incidents have deeply affected exports, and that is money that should be going to a national fund that would pay for reconstruction. So this isn't just about a fire on a section of pipeline, it's about the future of Iraq."
"As you can see, to respond to the incidents takes up a lot of our time," Ubeidi said as his boss, the director Adel Kazaz, hurried down a hallway accompanied by US soldiers and employees of Kellogg, Brown & Root, the subsidiary of the US company Halliburton, which was awarded multibillion-dollar contracts by the US-led occupation to rebuild Iraq's crumbling and neglected infrastructure.
A short time later, a section of the pipeline on the western outskirts of Kirkuk could be seen blazing with an intense rolling fire. Several US soldiers stood outside their armored Humvee, pointing in the direction of the fire and speaking on radios. One Iraqi official said there have been four to five attacks per month since the occupation began seven months ago.
Beneath Kirkuk lies the second-largest oil reserve in Iraq, a vast field of crude that has traditionally provided 40 percent of total exports. And on the landscape outside the city, the huge cylindrical holding tanks sit like precious eggs connected to glistening chrome veins of 4-foot-wide pipe.
Sometimes, the pipeline explosions and fires are caused by breaks in the rusted steel pipes, but US and Iraqi officials say more frequently they are caused by sabotage.
In a network of trailer homes inside the heavily guarded Northern Oil Company, a reporter knocked on the door of the offices of Kellogg, Brown & Root. Two American oilmen in cowboy hats and speaking with Texas accents politely declined to comment and radioed to US soldiers, who quickly appeared and said, "You can't talk to these guys. They're not allowed to say anything."
The Americans and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps have been policing the pipelines and pursuing saboteurs. First Lieutenant Ted Ruzika of the 101st Airborne Division was just coming off a shift of policing the pipeline in northern Iraq near the area of Hatra.
Ruzika, 25, said his unit guards a 40-mile stretch of the pipeline, which is made up of three systems of piping up to 46 inches in diameter. Each pipe carries a different oil product, and the smallest of the three lines pumps liquid gas north to Turkey.
"What we try to do is just have a presence all the time. We mix it up, and we change patterns riding up and down the line," he said. "Either through good fortune or vigilance, we've had pretty good success in our area."
Ruzika said his brigade has been assisted by the Iraqi Facilities Force, which is dedicated to protecting Iraq's infrastructure, and what they call "the Sheik force." These, he explained, are about 40 to 50 members of local tribes; the name refers to their leaders, or sheiks. Ruzika said this local militia has helped the US forces protect the pipeline and alert them to any suspicious activity in the area.
"If you can keep the locals on your side, you can have a lot more success," he said.
Iraqi oil officials say the insurgents have recently been targeting a vast network of thousands of miles of domestic pipelines that crisscross the center of the country. This network provides the critical flow of oil and gas to the Iraqi population and has kept the price of gasoline cheap. Gas is about 10 cents a gallon, less than the price of water.
If Iraq's domestic gas prices were to rise as a result of sabotage, Iraqi officials say, that could perhaps be more destabilizing than shutting down exports.
Asim Jihad, spokesman for the Iraqi Oil Ministry, said the loss of these exports to sabotage, combined with damage to the infrastructure through looting amid the postwar chaos, left Iraq's oil industry in October able to export only 1.14 million barrels of crude per day, worth about $24 million. That figure is less than half of the up to 2.5 million barrels per day that Iraq was exporting before the war, he said.
"We have a lot of work to do. We can focus on repairing the infrastructure," added Jihad in an interview at the Oil Ministry in Baghdad. "But the truth is the sabotage operations are virtually impossible to thwart."
SIDEBAR: DISRUPTED RECOVERY Iraq's oil production has been spurting toward recovery since major combat ended in May. But Iraqi insurgents, resentful of American presence, have been sabotaging the country's vast oil pipelines.
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