Insurgent attacks on Iraq's oil infrastructure, added to the damage caused by U.S. forces during the war last year, are helping to cripple economic and other reconstruction efforts in that strife-torn country, U.S. intelligence officials told United Press International.
The result is that Iraq's oil production, which was projected by the Bush administration to double and be used to pay for the costs of the war, has not served that purpose because exports are down from 2.5 million barrels a day to around 1.5 million barrels a day, according to these sources.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has disputed this. In recent congressional testimony, he declared, "Today Iraqi oil revenues go to the Development Fund for Iraq, where it helps to build new infrastructure and a new future for the Iraqi people."
And he gave the current Iraqi export level as 2.5 million barrels a day, or "pre-war levels."
"Simply not accurate," said Gal Luft, director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and publisher of the online newsletter, Energy Security.
"Iraq's oil exports are not up at pre-war levels because of incessant pipeline attacks."
He said that the prevention of pipeline sabotage has been a top priority of the Coalition Provisional Authority and that currently about 14,000 security workers have taken up positions along important pipeline routes or critical oil installations. Contract security workers are equipped with the latest electronic motion sensors, advanced surveillance equipment, night vision equipment, and that mobile security patrols have increased "six-fold."
None of this is working, he said.
Luft provided UPI with a list of some of the sabotage onslaughts. Beginning with June 12, 2003, there were attacks on a pipeline near Kirkuk that carries oil to the Turkish port of Cayhan on the Mediterranean; on June 19, an explosion at the Bayji refinery complex about 125 miles north of Baghdad; on June 24, an explosion near Barwanah that carries crude oil to the al Dawrah refinery.
In August last year, there were three very damaging attacks, two near Bayji, according to Luft's data. On Sept. 8, an attack ripped through a pipeline from the Jabour oil field 20 miles from Kirkuk to the main originating pipeline, according to the data.
The list, by no means complete, reports 35 major and severely damaging attacks from June 12 to the end of the year and gives a total of eight major attacks from January 2004 through April, a major attack taking place on March 25, when there was a blast at the main oil well in northern Iraq that feeds exports through Qazzaz, a chief installation of the Northern Iraqi Oil Company that caused "massive damage," according to a company official quoted by Luft.
An executive of Hess Oil, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed this: "These security arrangements of ours aren't working, nor are they preventing sabotage. The pipelines remain very vulnerable, and the attacks on pipelines simply aren't being reported.
In fact, Luft claimed that the pipeline attacks are on the increase. After staging more than 100 major attacks on pipelines in northern Iraq, terrorists last month began to hit pipelines in southern Iraq, near Basra.
Another problem besetting the system is the slowness on the part of U.S. authorities in repairing wartime damage to the system, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The Hess executive claimed that in April of last year, U.S. Air Force planes bombed the Al Fatha Bridge over a tributary of the Tigris River near the Iraqi oil center of Kirkuk.
According to the Hess executives, whose account was confirmed in general by U.S. intelligence officials, U.S. Air Force bombs destroyed "a key mass of crude oil and liquid petroleum gas pipes" that were part of a "critical node" of the oil industry in that area.
No effort was made by CPA officials to repair the pipes until three weeks ago, when it was decided to begin, the Hess Oil executive said.
Before the U.S. bombing, the installation was pumping at full capacity - 670,000 barrels per day to 690,000 barrels per day, but after makeshift repairs, its output was "barely a trickle" -- around 300,000 barrels a day, this oil official said.
Even now, the source said, a quarrel over whether the Iraqi Ministry of Oil or the Ministry of Public Works should restore the pipes have stalled repair efforts.
The Pentagon did not return repeated phone calls.
On Saturday, suicide bombers attacked Iraqi oil facilities in the Gulf, costing the country between $40 million to $150 million in lost revenues, according to newspaper reports.
According to a report in the U.K. Guardian, three U.S. sailors were killed and five wounded near Khawr al Amaya, when a suicide boat flipped over the 8-man U.S. Navy craft that was approaching it.
The Khawr al Amaya Oil Terminal was damaged and at least 1 million barrels of oil lost in the attack, the paper said.
A U.S. intelligence official told UPI: "This was an extremely serious attack, perhaps the worst so far on an Iraqi oil installation." He added that it was designed to distract U.S. military efforts from quelling insurgents in Fallujah and Najaf and demonstrated that the terrorists "are flexible in their targets and tactics."
He also noted that the attacks appeared "to have been in conjunction with and support of the Fallujah and Najaf insurgency."
He said new safeguards and countermeasures were being put in place "even as we speak" and that some progress has been made.
Luft said Iraq's northern pipeline to the Turkish oil installation at Ceyhan has been reopened after months of repeated sabotage, but that its current output of 160,000 barrels a day is "way below its full capacity."
Luft also observed that pipeline attacks are not simply a tactic but part "of a sustained and orchestrated effort" to destroy a valuable strategic target, increase the Iraqi people's sense of insecurity and boost resentment of the U.S. presence there.