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Iraq: Sabotage Of Civilian Infrastructure Seen As Resistance Strategy

Sabotage took its toll in Iraq over the weekend, with explosions rupturing crucial oil and water pipelines. Violence also resulted in the deaths of at least eight Iraqis, as well as a Danish soldier and a Reuters television cameraman. The attacks on civilian and military facilities are seen as a strategy of the Iraqi resistance, to wreak havoc and spawn discontent among the population.

Prague, 18 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Engineers and U.S. soldiers have been struggling today to repair a key oil-export pipeline after it was set on fire twice in apparent guerrilla attacks during the weekend.

Large clouds of black smoke continued to billow from the pipeline today as experts inspected the damage and tried to contain the blazes. The pipeline links the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan and is considered a crucial source of income for Iraq's struggling economy.

L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator for Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad yesterday that the Iraqi people are losing revenues worth about $7 million per day as a result of the damage and temporary shutdown.

"It's quite clear that the economic reconstruction must take place against a background of political transition and political transformation. Today, Iraq finds itself poor because of the astonishing mismanagement of the Iraqi economy over the last four decades and the great costs to the Iraqi people of the political sabotage which continues in Iraq -- including the attack on the Kirkuk pipeline, the cost of which is $7 million a day to the Iraqi people," Bremer said.

U.S. officials suggest the damage could ultimately cost as much as $100 million in lost revenues -- a figure based on Bremer's remarks and estimates by Guy Shields, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, about how long the pipeline is expected to be out of service. "Different reports that we have seen have been anywhere from 10 days to two weeks. But they still have a lot to do to find out exactly what needs to get done," Shields said.

The northern oil pipeline had started to carry Iraqi oil to international markets on 13 August but was shut down on 15 August after it was ruptured by an explosion and fire broke out.

Iraq's acting oil minister, Thamir Ghadban, said saboteurs attacked a remote part of the pipeline in the Iraqi desert. On 17 August, just as that blaze was being brought under control, a second explosion ignited another section of the pipeline nearby.

Sabotage also is blamed for an explosion that ruptured a water pipeline serving northern Baghdad yesterday. The International Committee of the Red Cross says that attack has deprived 300,000 people in the Iraqi capital of running water. But authorities say they hope the water pipeline can be repaired much quicker than the oil pipeline.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military says six Iraqis were killed and 59 injured when three mortar rounds were fired by unknown attackers into a U.S.-guarded prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad Saturday (16 August) night.

The U.S. military has admitted that U.S. soldiers on a tank shot dead a Reuters cameraman, 43-year-old Palestinian Mazen Dana, while he was recording video images outside of the Abu Gharib prison.

A spokesman said the U.S. soldiers mistakenly thought Dana was aiming a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher at them and that they fired at the cameraman in self-defense. The last images recorded by Dana's camera confirm he was pointing his camera straight at the advancing U.S. tank when he was killed.

A Danish soldier also was killed along with two Iraqi men during the weekend to the west of Al-Basrah when the soldier's patrol tried to arrest a group of looters who were stealing copper power cables from the electrical-distribution network. Rampant looting of electricity cables and breakdowns of decrepit equipment also are contributing to chronic power and fuel shortages across Iraq.

The wave of recent attacks on civilian and military facilities is seen as a new anticoalition resistance strategy of hitting targets with the purpose of causing havoc and sewing discontent among Iraqis toward the U.S.-led coalition.

Yesterday, the Qatar-based satellite television channel Al-Jazeera broadcast a new videotape allegedly recorded by a group that is fighting against U.S. forces in Iraq.

The tape showed five men in battle dress and covered faces carrying assault rifles and shoulder-fired missile launchers. One of the men read a prepared statement from the so-called Iraqi National Islamic Resistance Movement and pledged to escalate operations against U.S. forces in the country.

"The Iraqi resistance, as it is well-known, has started to make substantial progress on the domestic front, putting the enemy on the defensive rather than offensive. And [the Iraqi National Islamic Resistance Group's] varied and frequent attacks have prevented the occupiers from planting themselves on Iraqi soil, thanks to God. The enemy is suffering so many casualties on a daily basis that this news is being severely blacked-out by the media to protect [U.S. President George W.] Bush's chances in the forthcoming election and to protect the policies of the White House from the American public," he said.

The masked man in the video also said that his group's actions are aimed at evicting U.S. forces from Iraq. The tape made no specific reference to any of the recent attacks on the Iraqi pipelines.

Charles Heatly, a public affairs spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said the recent sabotage is aimed at undermining the authority of Iraq's appointed transitional government. He admitted that protecting the pipelines remains a challenge. "Clearly, protecting Iraq's oil facilities against attack is a major priority," he said. "It's something that's very, very important because production of oil in this country is essential -- not only for producing some income for the government to be able to spend on reconstruction and on basic services, but also in terms of meeting domestic demand for basic fuels."

Heatly blamed the sabotage on suspected loyalists of Saddam Hussein's ousted regime and foreign militants who Washington says have entered Iraq recently to mount attacks on U.S. forces. "While we are facing deliberate sabotage by members of the previous regime, [security of basic infrastructure] will remain a challenge. And that is why the work that the coalition military are doing in hunting down these elements is absolutely crucial in this area," he said.

But with coalition forces already stretched thin to provide security in cities and towns across Iraq, U.S. officials admit the coalition is unable on its own to protect pipelines that stretch across hundreds of miles of desert.

Heatly said long-term plans call for more Iraqis to be trained to protect the pipeline routes. But that process takes time as candidates are processed and subjected to strict security checks and training.

"We are [setting] up a lot of fixed protection services -- both to protect the oil infrastructure and the electricity infrastructure. In total at the moment, we have about 5,500 Iraqi personnel who are guarding the oil infrastructure. That includes [oil] well heads, pumping stations, refineries, pipelines, and of course, a lot of the electricity-generating facilities that are attached to them," Heatly said.

Members of the new Iraqi interim government say the motives for the mortar attack on the Abu Gharib prison remain unknown. But Governing Council member Samir Shakir Mahmud Sumaidy said he thinks the attackers have "lost their way" and have no strategy other than to create mayhem and chaos.

Sumaidy said the violence will certainly not hasten the departure of coalition forces and probably, on the contrary, will prolong their stay.