Insurgents wage 'all-out' war on Iraq's oil industry
Iraqi insurgents are waging an all-out war on the country's vital oil industry which has lost nearly eight billion dollars in revenue since last year's US-led invasion, Oil Minister Thamer Ghadban said.
"We want to tell the Iraqi people that there is an all-out war against the country's oil infrastructure," Ghadban told reporters as he toured the capital's Dura refinery, which came under mortar fire last week.
Ghadban estimated lost export revenue from sabotage at about eight billion dollars since the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which sits on the world's second largest reserves of crude oil.
"Exports are now limited only to the south, there are no exports in the north," he added. Oil exports from southern terminals in Basra are averaging 1.8 million barrels per day.
Osama bin Laden ordered his supporters to sabotage oil facilities in Iraq and the Gulf, in an audiotape attributed to the Al-Qaeda leader broadcast on an Islamist website last month.
"Take jihad (holy war) to stop (the Americans) getting hold of (the oil). Concentrate your operations on the oil, in particular in Iraq and the Gulf," said the voice on the tape.
Ghadban said there was "a plot to create a shortage of oil in the country and prevent exports from Iraq", adding that "this plot has become widespread and has almost reached its peak."
He said that intelligence indicated that a mortar attack on the southern Basra refinery on Saturday was carried out "by a terrorist group close to Al-Qaeda" and that insurgents in the north of the country were distributing tracts warning truck drivers not to supply refineries with crude.
Ghadban said other attacks took place over the weekend, with a pipeline transporting crude from the oilfields of Kirkuk in northern Iraq to the Baiji refinery bombed and a power plant in Mussayab, south of the capital, also attacked.
The attacks are carried out "to sow terror among the population", he said.
"Terrorists are not content to hit pipelines, but have also hit tanker trucks, and have threatened, beaten and killed drivers," he said.
Ghadban warned that sabotage is to blame for fuel shortages that continue to plague the country despite its oil wealth, sometimes forcing people to wait a whole day to fill up their vehicles.
But power supply is also affected with most sections of Baghdad plunged in darkness almost every night and residents having to rely on generators.
The Dura refinery, which provides fuel for Baghdad's main power plant that supplies most of the capital with electricity, has been the target of 11 insurgent attacks in the last two months alone.
"I don't see an imminent or swift end to this crisis," said the minister, adding that more security forces would be deployed to protect oil installations against insurgent attacks.