LAST WEEK’S pipeline explosion in Iraq is being attributed to saboteurs, according to a report in Middle East Online at www.middle-east-online.com. Saboteurs blew up part of a key oil pipeline in northern Iraq which was still ablaze last Friday, following an explosion the previous night, a senior official in the nearby refinery town of Baiji said. “It was a crude oil pipeline going from Kirkuk to Baiji,” Majid Mamuni, general director in charge of pipelines at the refinery, said. “I think it was sabotage,” he added.
Police and witnesses at the scene said a large explosion rocked Baiji Thursday night, while a fire along a section of pipeline was still raging Friday near the refinery town. According to Middle East Online, a high-ranking Baiji police officer ” who asked not to be identified ” said: “It is an attack, a sabotage. It could be the Fedayeen (pro-Saddam Hussein militia), or supporters of the old regime, or criminals.”
US military helicopters were seen hovering over the fire 4km from the refinery, while six US military vehicles stopped nearby, with their occupants assessing the situation for 20 minutes before departing. One engineer from the refinery said emergency safety mechanisms were employed to shut-down the pipeline and prevent an escalation of the damage.
Baiji is about 200km north of Baghdad, and is a vital hub in the network of oil pipelines which criss-cross Iraq. It also falls within the northern tip of the so-called Sunni Muslim triangle, a wedge of north-central Iraq known for its support of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime and the high number of attacks on US troops there. The incident heightens concerns over Iraq’s capability to maintain security on its pipeline network just as the main export line from Iraq’s northern oilfields to Turkey, which runs through Baiji and was wrecked in a previous sabotage attack, was supposed to reopen. A coalition official said it was still unclear whether the new attack would delay the reopening which had been set for early this month.
Oil is crucial to the coalition’s plans to rebuild Iraq. The coalition is banking on oil sales of $3.4 billion this year, which would supply half the six-billion-dollar state budget it announced earlier in the month. On 31 July, the oil ministry said Iraq had signed a second batch of major oil contracts with 12 foreign companies for 650,000 barrels per day (bpd). The contracts, due to begin on 1 August and last through the year, were signed with US firms ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhilipps, Marathon, and Valero Energy, and also with European firms Shell, BP, Total, and Repsol YPF.