Saboteurs halve Iraqi oil exports
Guerillas set a southern oil pipeline ablaze yesterday, halving Iraq's vital crude exports, in the first major sabotage attack since an Iraqi interim government took over from the US-led occupation.
An oil official said one of two pipelines feeding Iraq's Gulf terminals was on fire in the Faw Peninsula and a shipping agent said this had cut exports to 960,000 barrels per day.
Oil exports, Iraq's main economic artery, had recovered to about two million bpd after being choked off completely by last month's attacks on both southern pipelines.
US-led troops and Iraqi forces have been on alert for any attacks aimed at disrupting the formal transfer of sovereignty, which occurred on Monday, and Saddam Hussein's court appearance on Thursday which recalled decades of killings and torture.
Guerillas killed seven Iraqis yesterday in an attack on a National Guard checkpoint south of Baghdad, the US army said. Insurgents have repeatedly targeted Iraqi security forces.
Yet by postwar Iraq's violent standards, it has been a quiet week, with nothing like the wave of bombings and attacks that killed about 100 people, many of them policemen, on June 24.
Hundreds of Saddam supporters demonstrated yesterday in the town of al-Dawr, north of Baghdad, where US troops caught the former dictator in December. Witnesses said Iraqi police and national guards joined the crowd waving portraits of Saddam.
The US military said it had thwarted potential attacks in Baghdad with raids that uncovered a car bomb "factory" and caches of arms and explosives. Fifty-one people were arrested.
Soldiers found four vehicles, apparently being modified for use in bomb attacks, at one site, while searches elsewhere netted rocket-propelled grenade launchers, explosives and bombs.
"Denying the enemy of the Iraqi people the weapons he uses to kill Iraqi civilians is always a remarkable success," said Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton, the 1st Cavalry Division's spokesman. He did not say when the two-day operation took place.
The military also said a US Marine had died of wounds sustained during operations in western Iraq on Friday, the same day another Marine was killed in the region.
At least 636 US troops have been killed in combat since the start of last year's invasion to topple Saddam.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari declined an offer by Jordan to send troops to Iraq, where a US-led multinational force of about 160,000 has remained to fight insurgents.
"We welcome the support of Arab and Islamic countries... but there are many ways for these countries to stand with the Iraqi people and offer a helping hand," Zebari told a news conference.
"There are sensitivities over the participation of neighbouring countries in peacekeeping forces, but these countries can back United Nations activities."
King Abdullah said on Thursday Jordan could become the first Arab country to send troops to Iraq if Baghdad requested it.
Iraqi leaders have said troops from neighbouring nations are not welcome, fearing they will pursue their own interests.
In response to a US request, Turkey said last year it was ready to send troops to Iraq, but withdrew the offer when Iraq's now-dissolved Governing Council opposed the move.
Zebari welcomed an offer by Yemen to send peacekeepers, provided they were under United Nations or Arab League command.
"With regard to Yemen's proposal, we are in principle for the participation of Arab peacekeeping troops from beyond the immediate neighbours," he said.