Pipeline Explodes; GI Killed

A US military oil tanker passes by a burning oil pipeline near the highway at Hit, 150 kilometers (93 miles) northwest of Iraq, Sunday June 22, 2003.
A fuel pipeline exploded and caught fire west of Baghdad, a possible act of sabotage that sent flames high into the sky, as Iraq returned to world oil markets Sunday with its first crude oil exports since the U.S.-led invasion.

Meanwhile, a grenade attack Sunday killed an American soldier and wounded another just outside the capital, the latest violence to plague U.S. forces, who have launched a large crackdown aimed at putting down persistent resistance.

The pipeline explosion did not affect the resumption of crude exports, but the apparent sabotage highlighted recent attacks on fuel pipelines and other infrastructure that have hampered the drive to repair Iraq's most vital industry — one U.S. and British administrators are relying on to finance reconstruction.

In other Iraqi news:

  • The Washington Post reports the sophisticated planning of recent ambushes and the increasing number of U.S. casualties is heightening fears among American officials that the military is facing a guerrilla war. Iraqi and U.S. officials say groups of fighters from Saddam Hussein's regime have organized a loose network called "the Return" to force the United States out of the country, the Post reports.
  • Sources tell CBS News that U.S. forces hit a convoy carrying associates of the personal secretary of Saddam Hussein on Wednesday or Thursday. One of the associates got away and fled across the Syrian border, and in the course of tracking and shooting the target, U.S. forces wounded five Syrian border guards, the sources say. The United States is holding the Syrian border guards and providing medical attention, the sources say. As of now, there is no reason to believe that Saddam or either his two sons were in the convoy, the sources say. The London Observer reported Sunday that American specialists are testing human remains from the attack believed by U.S. military sources to be those of Saddam Hussein and one of his sons.
  • The Washington Post reports President Bush overstated his case when he declared that the government of Saddam Hussein posed an immediate threat to the United States. To support his assertion, Bush said there was evidence pointing to its ongoing ties to the al Qaeda. However, a classified national intelligence report at the time warned that such ties were not clear, the Post reports. Other Bush claims supporting the war were also not supported by a consensus of U.S. intelligence analysts, the Post reports.
  • On Saturday, U.S. soldiers, acting on a tip, seized code equipment and piles of top secret Iraqi intelligence documents in a raid on a community center. The find, including references to a nuclear program, is being sent to senior intelligence analysts to look for information on Iraq's banned weapons programs. U.S. forces have been combing Iraq for clues to the country's banned nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. The searches have so far failed to prove that Iraq harbored unconventional weapons President Bush cited as the justification for war.

    Huge flames shot up from the site of the pipeline explosion — an outpost in a barren desert — and no one appeared to be attempting to douse the flames on Sunday.

    "It was like a huge bolt of lightning," Hazem Abdel Rahman, a farmer who lives about a half mile away, said of the explosion.

    The U.S. military said the cause of the blast was still under investigation, but local officials said it was sabotage.

    Naim al-Goud, mayor of Hit, said people from outside his region attacked the pipeline Saturday. "They want to make trouble between the American and the people of Hit," he said. "We are trying to arrest them."

    "We sent fire engines this morning but we couldn't do anything because the fire is bigger than our capabilities," al-Hity said, adding that local officials have asked Iraq's oil ministry to stop pumping to extinguish the fire.

    The damaged pipeline carries gas — not oil — from the city of Kirkuk, 150 miles north of Baghdad, to various parts of Iraq to fuel power stations, said Brig. Salam al-Hity, a senior police official in Hit.

    One of Iraq's most important oil pipelines also runs though Hit, connecting the country's northern and southern oil fields. Oil ministry officials and U.S. spokesmen in Baghdad could not confirm al-Hity's assertion that the explosion occurred at a gas pipeline.

    Also in Hit, two U.S. soldiers were injured when their Humvee hit a "land mine or other explosive device" on Saturday, said Maj. Sean Gibson, a U.S. military spokesman. The injuries were not considered serious and the soldiers were being treated at a combat support hospital.

    Meanwhile, at the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, Turkish, Iraqi and American officials held a ceremony to mark the resumption of exports as pipelines were hooked up to the Turkish tanker Ottoman Dignity and around 1 million barrels were loaded on board.

    It was the first oil exported from Ceyhan since March 20.

    The crude, which was bought by Turkey and was being taken to a refinery in the Aegean Sea, came from some 8 million barrels that have been stored in southern Turkey since before the U.S.-led war began.

    Officials said it will take days or weeks before Iraq could begin pumping fresh oil to Turkey. They said the pipeline from Kirkuk, 150 miles north of Baghdad, to Ceyhan is still not ready to begin carrying crude.

    Two explosions damaged the pipeline earlier this month in what Turkey's foreign minister called sabotage.

    The pipeline damaged Sunday was not expected to affect plans for the Kirkuk-Ceyhan operations.

    Walid Jawad, director of projects for the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, said that most of the sabotage at the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline has been repaired, but a lack of good communication with Turkey and the looting of control mechanisms have delayed a resumption of pumping.

    He said Iraq still needs to import some materials to get the controls up and running.

    The pipeline stopped pumping during the U.S.-led war on Iraq, when shipping was stopped and the Ceyhan storage tanks filled to their capacity of 8 million barrels.