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Iraq Front News: Our men were immediately evacuated to a shelter (1 August 2003)

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  • Jim Galasyn
    Iraq Front News Subscribe: IraqFrontNews-subscribe@yahoogroups.com 1 August 2003 News roundup by Jim Galasyn ... ~ Bring Them Home ~ Four Iraqis killed, three
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2003
      Iraq Front News
      1 August 2003
      News roundup by Jim Galasyn

      ~ Bring Them Home ~
       
      Four Iraqis killed, three US troops wounded as attacks mount

      FALLUJAH, Iraq (AFP) - Four Iraqi men were killed and three US troops were lightly wounded in separate attacks against American forces near the town of Fallujah, amid a rise in violence in the flashpoint region, the US military told AFP.
       
      The Iraqis died in a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) assault on a US convoy.

      "Four Iraqis were killed and nobody from the American side was injured" in the 8:33 am (0433 GMT) attack, Sergeant Keith O'Donnell said Friday.

      It was not immediately clear if the RPGs missed their mark or soldiers inside their vehicles were unhurt in the explosions.

      US forces arrested nine people in the clash, seven of whom O'Donnell said were carrying grenades while two were found with suspect documents bearing photographs of ousted president Saddam Hussein.

      He said eight attackers ambushed the Americans as they patrolled Fallujah's outskirts on reconnaissance.

      Witnesses at the scene, in the village of Albu Alwan seven kilometres (four miles) west of Fallujah, earlier said two Iraqis had been killed while an undetermined number of US soldiers were wounded during the attack and a subsequent gunbattle.

      "I was arrested for two hours by American forces and I saw 12 (US) soldiers on the ground," said Majid Ibrahim Allawi, adding that the gunbattle lasted 90 minutes.

      "They were driven in the direction of camp al-Habaniya," a former base of the Iraqi army now used by US forces.

      O'Donnell said the clash was the latest in a growing number of attacks in the region considered a stronghold of resistance to the US-led occupation.

      "It was one of eight attacks in the last 24 hours west of Baghdad, the most extensive attacks in a while," O'Donnell said.

      In a separate incident, three US soldiers were lightly wounded when their vehicle was struck by a mine blast near the Habaniya base.

      "Three Americans were slightly injured by a mine at 9:45 (0545 GMT) this morning near al-Habaniya," O'Donnell said. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known.

      And at 10:30 am (0630 GMT), an AFP correspondent witnessed an explosion on the road in Albu Alwan which occurred 15 metres (yards) from a US patrol, but there were no casualties.

      Anti-US sentiment has run high in Fallujah, a Sunni Muslim bastion 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Baghdad, ever since US troops shot dead at least 16 demonstrators in April.

      A US special task force has been operating in the region hunting for Saddam, whose ability to elude capture since his regime was toppled April 9 has been seen as a spur for continued attacks on the US-led coalition.
       

       
      A BASE housing Polish troops in Iraq came under mortar fire overnight but there were no casualties or damage, the defence ministry said on Friday.
       
      It said that US special forces had tried but failed to capture the assailants.
      The ministry said five mortar shells were fired in the early hours at a logistics base in the town of Hilla, near Baghdad, but all of them fell at the edge of the facility.
       
      "Our men were immediately evacuated to a shelter, while US special forces and gendarmes set off to chase the assailants," ministry spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak said.
       
      However, the assailants escaped, he said.
       
      The attack was the first reported against Polish troops in Iraq, where about 300 military personnel are working to prepare for the deployment of a multinational division under Polish command.
       
      US troops in Iraq have been coming under almost daily attack since May 1, when President George W. Bush said that main combat operations were over in the country.
       

      Army Sends Teams to Probe Iraq Illness
      By PAULINE JELINEK
       
      Associated Press Writer
       
      WASHINGTON (AP) - The Army is trying to figure out what is causing a rash of serious pneumonia cases, including two fatalities, among soldiers serving in Iraq.
       
      A six-person team of specialists was en route to Iraq Friday to investigate 14 cases of pneumonia serious enough that the soldiers had to be put on ventilators to breathe and evacuated from the region, the Army Surgeon General's office said Friday.
       
      Two soldiers died, nine recovered and three were still hospitalized as of Thursday, spokeswoman Lyn Kukral said.
       
      The team on its way to Iraq includes infectious disease experts, laboratory officers and people who will take samples of soil, water and air.
       
      So far, officials have identified no infectious agent common to all the cases. There is no evidence any of the cases were caused by exposure to chemical or biological weapons, environmental toxins or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), officials said.
       
      A two-person team already has gone to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where most of the cases were treated after evacuation. The two teams also will review patient records and laboratory results and interview health care workers and patients, if possible, said a statement from the Army Surgeon General and U.S. Army Medical Command.
       
      The teams will be looking for similarities among the cases, which so far have hit troops in geographically dispersed areas and from different units, said the Thursday statement. They also were spread over time, with two in March, three in April, two in May, three in June and four in July.
       
      Though only 14 cases were considered serious, there have been 100 cases altogether since March 1 among troops that began deploying late last years to the Persian Gulf.
       
      Army-wide, pneumonia cases serious enough to warrant hospitalization happen in about 9 of 10,000 soldiers per year. Given the number of troops deployed, the 100 cases ``do not exceed expectations,'' the surgeon general's office said.
       

      ~ Fool Me Once ~
       
       

      The judge investigating the events surrounding the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly has opened his inquiry and confirmed he intends to call Tony Blair as a witness.

      Lord Hutton began by telling a packed court room that the inquiry had been prompted by a "very tragic death" and that it would be fitting to stand for a minute's silence.
       
      The senior judge spent the first 35 minutes of the session explaining how he will conduct the inquiry and who he will call to give evidence, including the prime minister, the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan and Dr Kelly's widow.
       
      He gave a brief synopsis of events leading up to the apparent suicide of the government scientist who was found dead a few days after appearing before a committee of MPs.
       
      Lord Hutton said his task was to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death, quickly and fairly.
       
      He also revealed that Dr Kelly's body had been found with four electrocardiogram pads on his chest - one of the issues he wished to resolve.
       
      Dr Kelly had a coronary artery disease which may have sped up his death though not caused it, the pathologist reported.
       
      And Lord Hutton said that the post mortem investigation found that Dr Kelly had removed his watch and glasses before he died, which suggested deliberate self harm.
       
      He died days after giving evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee which was investigating the government's justification for war with Iraq.
       
      He told them he did not think he was the main source for a BBC report alleging the government had "sexed-up" a dossier on weapons of mass destruction.
       
      But after his death the BBC confirmed he was the source - although his name had already been widely circulated in the media before he died.
       
      A letter from Dr Kelly to his line manager confirming he had met Andrew Gilligan was revealed by the inquiry on Friday.
       
      In it he said he believed his account to the journalist may have been "embellished".
       
      The Hutton inquiry will aim to establish how Dr Kelly's name was made public and what precisely he told journalists.
       
      At the first session Lord Hutton set out the powers of the inquiry and gave a brief run through of the facts of the case established so far.
       
      He also detailed some of the questions that the key players in the case would have to answer.
       
      He cannot force anyone to appear before him but said he would also be seeking evidence from Donald Anderson, the chairman of the foreign affairs select committee.
       
      Lord Hutton said he was inclined to allow a certain amount of cross-examination of witnesses where he believed that it would be "helpful" to the inquiry.
       
      But he stressed that he was not in the business of conducting a trial.
       
      Tony Blair is set to become only the second serving prime minister to appear in public before an official inquiry when he gives evidence to Lord Hutton.
       
      He will follow in the footsteps of John Major who appeared before Sir Richard (now Lord) Scott's long-running inquiry into the arms-to-Iraq affair.
       
      TV cameras were allowed to film Lord Hutton's opening statement but the inquiry then went off air as Geoffrey Robertson QC, representing ITN and Sky, made an application for the evidence of key witnesses to be broadcast.
       
      Mr Robertson argued that 65% of the public received news from the television, which, he said, is capable of portraying the tone of voice and body language of witnesses - something which cannot be represented in newspapers.
       
      But Jeremy Gompertz QC, for the Kelly family, opposed the application, saying the presence of TV cameras at the inquiry would only "intensify their ordeal".
       
      He also said they did not wish anyone else to undergo the intense scrutiny that Dr Kelly experienced prior to his death.
       
      Lord Hutton, a former Lord Chief Justice in Northern Ireland, who is familiar with politically sensitive issues, delayed a decision on whether to allow the application until the inquiry reconvenes on 11 August. He then adjourned the first session.
       
      Full transcripts from each day's session will be published on the inquiry's website.
       
      It is hoped Lord Hutton's findings will be reported before the end of the year. 
       

      Al Qaeda link to attacks in Iraq -UK source
      http://famulus.msnbc.com/FamulusIntl/reuters08-01-104049.asp?reg=MIDEAST 
       
      LONDON, Aug. 1 — Members of groups linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network may have taken part in attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, a British diplomatic source said on Friday.
       
      The source said that while the attacks were largely the work of Iraqis loyal to deposed dictator Saddam Hussein ''there is some evidence that they've been joined by groups that are loosely connected with the al Qaeda network.''
       
      The source, who asked not to be named, did not specify the evidence, but said there were undoubtably ''some foreign elements'' targeting U.S. and allied troops in Iraq. He said there was nothing to show that Saddam, who is thought to be in hiding, or his two sons, killed by American troops last week, had been directly organising the attacks.
       
      ''I haven't seen any signs that Saddam Hussein or his sons were responsible for orchestrating that activity,'' he said.
       
      The United States has accused die-hard Saddam loyalists and some foreign fighters, possibly including al Qaeda operatives, of waging a guerrilla campaign that has killed 52 U.S. troops since Washington declared major combat over on May 1.
       
      Nineteen of those soldiers have been killed in the last two weeks and the U.S. army says the guerrillas are becoming more sophisticated and more deadly.
       
      In the latest attack, a U.S. soldier was killed and three were wounded on Thursday when their armoured personnel carrier hit a landmine on the road to the U.S. base at Baghdad airport.
       
      The British source acknowledged that the U.S.-led occupying forces in Iraq had failed to react quickly enough to the volatile security situation after the war.
       
      ''We had a hesitant start,'' he said. ''We did not hit the ground running as we should have done.''
       
      He said, however, that the Americans and British had made up lost ground and were now on track to oversee a successful transition to peaceful, democratic rule in Iraq. Washington says it will end the occupation as soon as an elected Iraqi government is in place.
       

      ~ Hearts and Minds ~
       
       
      A British man who was arrested in Iraq while searching for his young daughter has claimed he was badly treated by US troops.
       
      Michael Todd, 33, travelled to the region shortly before the outbreak of war to find the 19-month-old child named Sajida.
       
      He had a relationship with her mother, known only as Abla, when she was a student in Leeds three years ago but she left the UK shortly after becoming pregnant despite the couple's plans to marry.
       
      The street performer from York was held captive by US forces for 22 days after he was arrested in the northern Iraqi town of Sulaymaniyah on July 4 having stumbled across a military operation.
       
      He was held along with soldiers from the Turkish special forces and claims he was badly treated.
       
      He said a bag had been placed over his head and his hands were tied behind his back before being spat at and punched.
       
      At one stage he thought he was going to be killed when the lights went out and he heard the click of machine guns.
       
      He has arrived back in the UK on board a military transport plane bringing home British soldiers serving in Iraq.
       
      Minutes after touching down at Teesside International Airport he spoke of his ordeal.
       
      "I still don't feel free, even though I am supposedly free, because if someone can go to Iraq with a heart full of love searching for his child to give out soft toys then to be physically abused, mentally tortured and held as a terrorist and an enemy prisoner of war, why?
       
      "People need to wake up and ask some serious internal questions, because if this can happen to me, then how safe are honest, loving citizens?
       
      Mr Todd went on to describe how he was thrown into the back of a truck and driven to Tikrit where he was questioned further about his presence in northern Iraq.
       
      "I was given an orange suit. At that time I knew I was effectively labelled as a serious, serious threat to the American presence.
       
      "I was treated as a enemy prisoner of war, a terrorist suspect."
       
      He said it was only when he was transported to Baghdad and held at the airport that he was treated well.
       
      Eventually British authorities in Baghdad arranged for Mr Todd's release.
       
      He said he is considering his legal position and is determined to return to Iraq in a bid to find his daughter.
       
      He added: "The Americans have done their best to scar me mentally but they will never destroy my soul, that is the thing that has kept me strong.
       
      "Whatever they did to me, it wasn't pleasant but I had to think that people were getting killed every day.
       
      "They jeopardised my chances of finding my daughter. She could have been here now playing around. They took one month out of my life."
       

       
      A row has broken out in Spain after the country sent its first troops to patrol Iraq wearing on their shoulders the Cross of St James of Compostela - popularly known in Spain as the Moor Killer.
       
      Patches bearing the cross, the symbol of a saint who allegedly guided the medieval Christian reconquest of Spain from the Muslims, are to be worn by a 2000-strong Spanish brigade in central Iraq that will patrol the sacred Shia city of Najaf.
       
      The uniforms will carry an emblem showing a red cross. The triangular top and arrow-like arms of the cross identify it as that of St James, who is believed to have miraculously appeared to Christians fighting Moors in 19th Spain. Muslims ruling large parts of Spain were expelled after 800 years by the reconquest in 1492.
       
      While newspapers and radio stations reacted with astonishment at the choice of symbol, politicians avoided the argument.
       
      "If we start debating this subject the risks surrounding the mission will only be increased," said Jesus Caldera, a spokesman for the opposition Socialist party.
       
      The newspaper El Mundo said the Government was under fire over the uniforms because they showed the cross of a Christian saint who was a "Muslim-killer" . Shiites in Iraq might not appreciate the crusader crosses of the Spanish-speaking soldiers, it said.
       
      "To put the Cross of St James of Compostela on the uniforms of Spanish soldiers supposes an absolute ignorance of the society in which they will have to carry out their mission," El Mundo said in an editorial.
       
      "It would be difficult to come up with any symbol more offensive to the Shia population than this cross."
       
      Spaniards, unaccustomed to seeing their soldiers take part in what many see as an army of occupation, already view the Iraq mission with concern.
       

      For Iraqi family, ‘no other choice’
      Villagers force execution of informer by father, brother
      By Anthony Shadid

      THULUYA, Iraq, Aug. 1 —  Two hours before the dawn call to prayer, in a village still shrouded in silence, Sabah Kerbul’s executioners arrived. His father carried an AK-47 assault rifle, as did his brother. And with barely a word spoken, they led the man accused by the village of working as an informer for the Americans behind a house girded with fig trees, vineyards and orange groves.
       
      HIS FATHER raised his rifle and aimed it at his oldest son.
       
      “Sabah didn’t try to escape,” said Abdullah Ali, a village resident. “He knew he was facing his fate.”
       
      The story of what followed is based on interviews with Kerbul’s father, brother and five other villagers who said witnesses told them about the events. One shot tore through Kerbul’s leg, another his torso, the villagers said. He fell to the ground still breathing, his blood soaking the parched dust near the banks of the Tigris River, they said. His father could go no further, and according to some accounts, he collapsed. His other son then fired three times, the villagers said, at least once at his brother’s head.
       
      Kerbul, a tall, husky 28-year-old, died.
       
      “It wasn’t an easy thing to kill him,” his brother Salah said.
       
      In his simple home of cement and cinder blocks, the father, Salem, nervously thumbed black prayer beads this week as he recalled a warning from village residents earlier this month. He insisted his son was not an informer, but he said his protests meant little to a village seething with anger. He recalled their threat was clear: Either he kill his son, or villagers would resort to tribal justice and kill the rest of his family in retaliation for Kerbul’s role in a U.S. military operation in the village in June, in which four people were killed.
       
      Sabah Salem, the dead man's father, sits in his home in the Iraqi village of Thuluyah.
       
      “I have the heart of a father, and he’s my son,” Salem said. “Even the prophet Abraham didn’t have to kill his son.” He dragged on a cigarette. His eyes glimmered with the faint trace of tears. “There was no other choice,” he whispered.
      In the simmering guerrilla war fought along the Tigris, U.S. officials say they have received a deluge of tips from informants, the intelligence growing since U.S. forces killed former president Saddam Hussein’s two sons last week. Acting on the intelligence, soldiers have uncovered surface-to-air missiles, 45,000 sticks of dynamite and caches stashed with small arms and explosives. They have shut down safe houses that sheltered senior Baath Party operatives in the Sunni Muslim region north of Baghdad and ferreted out lieutenants and bodyguards of the fallen Iraqi president, who has eluded a relentless, four-month manhunt.
       
      But a shadowy response has followed, a less-publicized but no less deadly theater of violence in the U.S. occupation. U.S. officials and residents say informers have been killed, shot and attacked with grenades. U.S. officials say they have no numbers on deaths, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the campaign is widespread in a region long a source of support for Hussein’s government. The U.S. officials declined to discuss specifics about individual informers and would not say whether Kerbul was one.
       
      Lists of informers have circulated in at least two northern cities, and remnants of the Saddam’s Fedayeen militia have vowed in videotaped warnings broadcast on Arab satellite networks that they will fight informers “before we fight the Americans.”
       
      The surge of informants has also provoked anger in Sunni Muslim towns along the Tigris. Some residents say informants are drawn to rewards from U.S. field commanders of as little as $20 and as much as $2,500. The informants are occasionally interested in settling their own feuds and grudges with the help of soldiers, the residents said. Others contend that the informers are exploiting access with U.S. officials to emerge as power-brokers in the vacuum that has followed the fall of the government on April 9.
       
      “Time’s running out. Something will happen to them very soon,” said Maher Saab, 30, in the village of Saniya.  
            
      CALLS FOR REVENGE
      Residents of Thuluya said they had no doubt about Kerbul. After the operation in the village, dubbed Peninsula Strike, a force of 4,000 soldiers rounded up 400 residents and detained them at an air base seven miles north. An informer dressed in desert camouflage with a bag over his head had fingered at least 15 prisoners as they sat under a sweltering sun, their hands bound with plastic. Villagers said they soon recognized his yellow sandals and right thumb, which had been severed above the joint in an accident.
       
      “We started yelling and shouting, ‘That’s Sabah! That’s Sabah!’ ” said Mohammed Abu Dhua, who was held at the base for seven days and whose brother died of a heart attack during the operation. “We asked his father, ‘Why is Sabah doing these things?’ ”
       
      In the raid, three men and a 15-year-old boy were killed, all believed by villagers to have been innocent. Within days, many focused their ire on Kerbul, who had served a year in prison for impersonating a government official and was believed to have worked as an informer after he was released. Young children in the street sang a limerick about him: “Masked man, your face is the face of the devil.” Calls for revenge — tempered by the fear of tribal bloodletting getting out of hand — were heard in many conversations.
       
      Kerbul’s family said U.S. forces took him to Tikrit, then three weeks later, he went to stay with relatives across the Tigris in the village of Alim. As soon as word of his release spread, his brother Salah and uncle Suleiman went there to bring him back.
       
      Abdullah Ali, a retired colonel whose brother was also killed in a U.S. raid in June, demanded Kerbul's father kill his son for working as an informer.
       
      “We sent a message to his family,” said Ali, a retired colonel whose brother was among those killed during the operation. “You have to kill your son. If you don’t kill him, we will act against your family.”
       
      His father appealed, Ali recalled, saying he needed permission from U.S. forces.
       
      “We told him we’re not responsible for this,” Ali said. “We told him you must kill your son.”
       
      Kerbul’s body was buried hours after the shooting, his father said, carried to the cemetery in a white Toyota pickup. He said he and Kerbul’s brother accompanied the corpse. Salah, his son who fired the fatal shots, said he stayed home.
       
      Neither U.S. military officials in Thuluya nor Tikrit said they were aware of the killing.
       
      “It’s justice,” said Abu Dhua, sitting at his home near a bend in the Tigris. “In my opinion, he deserves worse than death.”
       

      Bush Blames Media For Hyping `March To War' Before Iraq
      By Alex Keto, Dow Jones Newswires
       
      WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- Casting about for new events to blame for the sluggish performance of the economy so far in his administration, President George W. Bush Friday blamed news organizations for hyping the prospects of the war with Iraq.
       
      During a brief interchange with reporters following a meeting with his cabinet, Bush was asked if he was surprised that three large tax cuts and 12 rate cuts by the Federal Reserve hadn't done more to get the economy on track.
       
      As he has done in the past, Bush said the economy has had to overcome a number of obstacles in the past three years. He said these include a sharp drop in share prices on the stock market, a recession, the Sept. 11 attacks and the corporate accounting scandals.
       
      However, Bush added a new culprit - the press corps in general and television networks in particular.
       
      "And then, as you may remember,... we had... a steady drumbeat to war. As I mentioned in my press conference the other day, on our TV screens there was... - on some TV screens there was a constant reminder of the American people - 'March to war.' Now war is not a very pleasant subject in people's minds. It's not conducive for the investment of capital," Bush said.
       
      However, beginning in August 2002 with two speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney in which he said that war might be the only option in dealing with Saddam Hussein, numerous administration officials talked about the possibility of going to war with Iraq.
       
      Bush also pushed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution that left open the possibility of war with Iraq and then unsuccessfully pressured key allies such as France and Germany to be ready to go war.
       
      Bush himself told the nation during his State of the Union speech that time was running out for Saddam to comply with U.N. sanctions and avoid an attack.
       

      Saddam's Daughters Express Love for Dad
      By JAMAL HALABY
      AMMAN, Jordan -- Saddam Hussein's daughters, in interviews Friday, expressed deep affection for their father but said they didn't know where he is and that they last saw him a week before the Iraqi war started.
       
      Raghad Saddam Hussein and Rana Hussein, who received sanctuary a day earlier in Jordan, appeared relaxed as they spoke with CNN and the Arab satellite station al-Arabiya at a royal palace in Amman, where they are staying with their nine children.
       
      They described tearfully leaving Baghdad the day the capital fell to coalition forces April 9. The sisters were poised but appeared to choke up somewhat as they talked about their family.
       
      "He was a very good father, loving, has a big heart," Raghad Hussein, wearing a fashionable white headscarf showing part of her light brown hair, told CNN. Asked if she wanted to give a message to her father, she said: "I love you and I miss you."
       
      "He had so many feelings and he was very tender with all of us," Rana said in the same interview. "Usually the daughter is close to her mother, but we would usually go to him. He was our friend."
       
      They refused to discuss their brothers Odai and Qusai, who were killed in a shootout with U.S. forces in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on July 22.
       
      Before arriving in Jordan, Raghad and Rana had reportedly been living in humble circumstances in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, since their father's ouster.
       
      The two daughters had lived private lives and -- unlike their brothers -- were not believed to be wanted for crimes linked to their father's brutal regime. Instead, the women were seen by some as victims of Saddam, who ordered their husbands killed in 1996.
       
      Raghad told al-Arabiya that the swift fall of the Iraqi capital on April 9 came as a "great shock" and she blamed it on a betrayal by associates of the deposed leader.
       
      "With regret, those my father trusted, whom he had put his absolute confidence in and whom he had considered on his side -- as I understood from the newspapers -- betrayed him," Raghad said.
       
      She did not say who betrayed Saddam in the portion of the interview that was broadcast.
       
      Rana said she last saw her father a week before the war started.
       
      Raghad said she spent the night before Baghdad fell to coalition forces listening to the radio in the upscale Mansour district of the Iraqi capital in the company of Rana and their children.
       
      "I used to pray and then tell my sister Rana, 'I think that everything is over,' " she said. "I was convinced that everything was over."
       
      At noon the day Baghdad fell, she said her father sent a car from the special security forces, "who told us to leave." She said the Qusai Hussein's wife and her children were with them.
       
      "The farewell moments were terrible," she said. "The boys were hugging each other and crying. We left Baghdad. Then I met my mother after a few hours and Hala (younger sister)."
       
      She said they were put in a house on Baghdad's outskirts.
       
      "There was almost no link with (my) father and brothers because everything was over."
       

      ~ White Man's Burden ~
      Iraqi gas pipeline on fire after blast - UPDATE

      BAIJI, Iraq (AFX) - A gas pipeline supplying a key Baghdad power station IS reported on fire this morning near the northern Iraqi refinery town of Baiji, following an overnight explosion, an Agence France-Presse correspondent on the scene reported.
       
      "It was a gas pipeline going from Kirkuk (in northern Iraq) to Tadji" power station, an engineer in Baiji said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
       
      US military helicopters have been seen hovering over the fire 4 km west of Baiji.
       
      The site is one of strategic pipelines in Iraq's massive oil and gas sector.
       
      Witnesses said they heard an explosion last night near Baiji, some 200 km north of Baghdad.
       
      "Last night after 8.00 pm prayers we heard one loud explosion here," said resident Ali Jassan.
       
      It is not immediately known what caused the blast and the resulting fire, which this morning is still too hot to tackle.
       
      The engineer said the pipeline "is very old, it could be a leak," but he has not ruled out sabotage.
       
      Sabotage and looting have plagued the oil and gas sectors, with pipelines suffering crippling damage and just 150 of 700 oil wells currently in working order, officials have said.
       
      Iraq's oil reserves, the second largest in the world, are estimated at 112 bln barrels, while its gas reserves are the world's tenth largest, according to the US-led coalition occupying Iraq.
       
      While the fire was on a gas line, the incident heightens concerns over Iraq's capability to maintain safety and security in its lucrative oil industry.
       
      Oil is crucial to the coalition's plans to rebuild Iraq.
       
      The coalition is banking on sales of 3.4 bln usd this year, which would supply half the 6 bln usd state budget it announced earlier in the month.
       
      Baiji is part of the so-called Sunni triangle, known for its support of ousted president Saddam Hussein.
       


      NEW YORK (AFP) - Oil prices put on a late surge in anxious pre-weekend trade, marked by supply fears and yet another pipeline sabotage in Iraq, analysts said.
       
      New York's benchmark light sweet crude contract for delivery in September leapt 1.77 dollars to 32.31 dollars a barrel.

      In London, Brent North Sea crude oil for September delivery was up 1.53 dollars at 29.90 dollars.

      "First we had reports of reduced output from Nigeria, then there are worries about a Venezuelan refinery and also reports of a pipeline being hit again," said Refco analyst Jim Still.

      Supplies were tight, a return of Iraqi oil appeared far off, and the jitters triggered a wave of buying by traders who had bet heavily on an imminent decline in prices, he said.

      Fears were raised after saboteurs blew up part of a key oil pipeline in northern Iraq on Thursday night.

      The blaze in the northern refinery hub of Baiji, still seen raging on Friday, is another blow to US plans to resuscitate Iraq's massive but crippled energy sector.

      "We have seen the same strong close every Friday for the past few weeks," said Barclays Capital analyst Orin Middleton in London.

      "The market doesn't want to be short ahead of the weekend, given the political uncertainty in Iraq and other countries," he said.

      "If we come through the weekend unscathed, we will go down early Monday morning."

      A meeting of ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna Thursday had opted to keep crude production unchanged.

      The gathering had been called amid OPEC fears that the return of Iraqi crude to world markets following the end of the war to unseat Saddam Hussein could send prices plunging.

      However production in Iraq has been slow to resume, hit by dilapidated infrastructure and looting, as well as the poor security situation.
       
      1 August 2003
      News roundup by Jim Galasyn
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