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Bombs Cripple Iraqi Oil Industry

Saboteurs blasted a key pipeline Wednesday for the second time in as many days, halting all oil exports from Iraq, officials said. Gunmen killed the top security official of the state-run Northern Oil company as insurgents stepped up attacks on Iraq's infrastructure.

On Monday and Tuesday, contractors working on reconstruction projects were killed in attacks. U.S. officials have warned that violence against reconstruction work — seen as critical to promoting confidence in the interim government — may increase as the June 30 handover of sovereignty approaches.

The Wednesday attack north of the town of Faw crippled two already damaged pipelines, forcing a halt in all Iraqi oil exports southward through the Gulf, Southern Oil Company spokesman Samir Jassim said.

"Due to the damage inflicted on the two pipelines, the pumping of oil to the Basra oil terminal has completely stopped," Jassim said. "Exports have come to halt."

Exports were halted last month through the other avenue — the northern pipeline from Kirkuk to Ceyhan, Turkey, after a May 25 bombing, Turkish officials said on condition of anonymity.

Two explosions on the southern pipeline occurred in the same area as a blast Tuesday. It could take up to a week to repair the damage, Jassim said.

Another pipeline carrying oil to a domestic refinery was attacked Tuesday night near Dibis, some 20 miles west of Kirkuk, according to Mustafa Awad, an official in the Northern Oil Company. That pipeline does not carry crude oil for export, however. The fire was extinguished.

In other developments:

  • Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered members of his militia to leave the holy cities of Nafaj and Kufa unless they live there. The order Wednesday fulfilled a key aspect of an agreement meant to end fighting between his militia forces and U.S. troops.
  • Coalition officials will hand over the civilian part of Baghdad International Airport to Iraqi authorities about July 1, the U.S. military said Wednesday. Return of the airport was a key demand of the interim government that takes power at the end of this month.
  • President Bush said Tuesday the United States will turn over former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to the new government in Baghdad at a later time, contradicting the interim prime minister's claim that the handover was imminent.
  • The president defended Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that Saddam had "long-established ties" with al Qaeda, an assertion that has been repeatedly challenged by some policy experts and lawmakers, as well as former Iraq Survey Group leader David Kay.
  • The Pentagon is asking the Senate to approve the appointment of Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army vice chief of staff, as the top U.S. commander and only four-star general in Iraq. He would replace Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, currently the top American commander.
  • A poll, requested by the Coalition Provisional Authority last month but not released to the American public, found more than half of Iraqis surveyed believed both that they'd be safer without U.S. forces and that all Americans behave like the military prison guards pictured in the Abu Ghraib abuse photos.

    The survey, obtained by The Associated Press, also found radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is surging in popularity as he leads an insurrection against U.S.-led forces, but would still be a distant finisher in an election for Iraqi president.

    "If you are sitting here as part of the coalition, it (the poll) is pretty grim," said Donald Hamilton, a career foreign service officer who is working for Ambassador Paul Bremer's interim government and helps oversee the CPA's polling of Iraqis.

    "While you have to be saddened that our intentions have been misunderstood by a lot of Iraqis, the truth of the matter is they have a strong inclination toward the things that have the potential to bring democracy here," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday from Baghdad.

    Hamilton noted the poll found 63 percent of Iraqis believed conditions will improve when an Iraqi interim government takes over June 30, and 62 percent believed it was "very likely" the Iraqi police and Army will maintain security without U.S. forces.

    The coalition's Iraq polling of 1,093 adults selected randomly in six cities — Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Diwaniyah, Hillah and Baquba — was taken May 14-23 and had a margin of potential sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

    The security officer for the Northern Oil Company was killed in an ambush Wednesday in a crowded public market in Kirkuk. The victim, Ghazi Talabani, was a Kurd and a relative of the leader of one of Iraq's main Kurdish parties, Jalal Talabani.

    Reviving petroleum exports is the key to restoring Iraq's economy after decades of war, international sanctions and Saddam's tyranny. However, repeated attacks have slowed the process of returning Iraq, with the world's second largest petroleum reserves after Saudi Arabia, to the forefront of global energy markets.

    Insurgents are targeting the infrastructure apparently to undermine confidence in the new government, which takes power June 30. On Monday, a car bomb killed 13 people in Baghdad, including three foreign engineers working to restore the electricity sector.

    Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition deputy operations chief, said another convoy of contractors was ambushed Tuesday in Baghdad. Two people were killed and three were injured when shots were fired from a highway overpass, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

    Elsewhere, a car bomb exploded Tuesday outside a coalition base near Hillah south of Baghdad, killing one Iraqi and wounding another, the U.S. military said. And gunmen killed an Iraqi police official in a town near Hillah as he went to work, the military said.

    An explosion was heard Wednesday in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of northern Baghdad and smoke was seen rising from one of the palaces used by the U.S. military there, witnesses said.

    There were no reports on casualties following the blast in the Azimiyah district, a Saddam stronghold.

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