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Suicide Attacks In Iraq Halt Oil Flow As Violence Continues

File photo 25 April 2004 -- Apparent suicide bombings overnight targeted two Iraqi oil terminals in the Persian Gulf, killing two U.S. Navy sailors and forcing the temporary closure of the terminals.

U.S. Naval officials said the U.S. sailors were killed and four were injured when an explosives-laden boat was detonated just as the U.S. troops were preparing to board the vessel near the Khor Al-Amaya oil terminal.

U.S. Navy commander James Graybeal says two other apparent suicide boats exploded a short time later near the main Al-Basrah terminal off the coast of the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr.

"Al-Basrah oil-terminal security forces immediately took action to intercept these two boats and those two boats subsequently exploded approximately 50 meters from the terminal," he said.

There are conflicting reports about the impact of the attacks on Iraq's oil infrastructure.Iraqi oil officials initially said that both terminals would suspend operations for two days. But Shamkhi Faraj, who heads Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization, announced that oil was already being reloaded at the Khor Al-Amaya terminal this afternoon. Faraj said the attacks would not impact Iraq's overall oil exports of 1.9 million barrels per day, which are vital to the economy as attempts are made to rebuild the country and restore stability.

But Dominic d'Angelo, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Al-Basrah, said an electricity cut at the Al-Basrah Oil Terminal would keep it closed for at least two days. Iraq's Oil Ministry said later that it hopes to have the Al-Basrah terminal working again by tomorrow. The Al-Basrah facility has a normal capacity of 1.6 million barrels of oil per day.

Meanwhile, in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul this morning, four Iraqis reportedly were killed and 15 injured in a series of attacks against civilian and police targets. The U.S.-led coalition said in a statement that at least five mortar and rocket attacks occurred in Mosul today within 30 minutes.

The violence follows attacks in several Iraqi cities yesterday which killed four U.S. soldiers and more than two dozen Iraqis. The U.S. soldiers reportedly were killed when a rocket attack exploded at their base to the north of Baghdad. At least 13 people reportedly were killed when a roadside bomb was detonated near their bus to the south of Baghdad. At least another 13 Iraqis were killed and about 40 injured by explosions in Baghdad's Shi'ite-Muslim area of Sadr City yesterday.

U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt says recent attacks against coalition troops have declined compared to the first half of this month. But Kimmitt admits that the surge of deadly violence during April has been far above normal: "The numbers [of attacks on coalition troops] that we are seeing over the last two weeks, or 10 days, are demonstrably lower than the numbers we saw in the first two weeks of April. They are certainly much higher than they have been -- by a factor of about 2.5 to 3 -- in the time period December to late March, where we were seeing roughly on the order of 20 attacks per day. Over the first part of April it was far above that -- 3 to 4 times that. Now it's [37 to 42 attacks per day], and we're continuing to push those numbers down on a day-to-day basis."

Meanwhile, an Iraqi official says the U.S.-led coalition has reached an agreement with local officials in the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah to extend their cease-fire "indefinitely." Hashim Al-Hassani, a member the Iraq Islamic Party who has been working as a mediator for the indirect talks, announced the deal today. He says the agreement will result in joint patrols within Fallujah starting on 27 April that include Iraqi police, Iraq's Civil Defense Corps forces, and coalition troops.

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