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Saboteurs strike Iraq's oil industry on daily basis: minister

BAGHDAD, Jan 13 (AFP) - Insurgents are carrying out at least one attack a day on Iraq's vital oil infrastructure, at times shutting down all fuel lines to Baghdad, Oil Minister Thamer Ghadban said Thursday.

"Over the past three months, attacks have increased to about one or two attacks every day," Ghadban told a press conference.

He warned the attacks were not random but part of a deliberate strategy to create fuel shortages in the capital. Ghadban said attacks numbered more than 200 in 2004 and had averaged about 24 per month.

"There is a leadership running these terrorist attacks. That leadership has maps and is aiming to isolate the city of Baghdad," Ghadban said.

Insurgents deliberately target fuel lines from Kirkuk, Baiji and Nafat Khana to the north that supply Baghdad's main refinery in the southern suburb of Dura, which in turn provides fuel to the capital's main electricity plant, Ghadban said.

"Sometimes all of these three lines become idle and as a result, oil stuff no longer reaches Baghdad. Then we find we have to rely on gas tankers, but the gas tankers are then attacked and the drivers either killed or kidnapped."

Iraq has stopped its imports of gasoline and propane from Syria and Saudi Arabia because of the constant attacks on the drivers, Ghadban said.

"There is a hostile campaign to stop Iraqi imports ... As the drivers were being killed or kidnapped, we were unable to go on," he said, estimating Iraq had bought 200 million dollars worth of fuel from the two countries each month.

The violence has resulted in fuel shortages across Iraq, with people waiting in line for several hours to fill their cars.

The relentless acts of sabotage have effectively robbed Iraq of the benefit of its oil reserves, estimated to be the second largest in the world after those of Saudi Arabia, he said.

"The oil industry has not been a real aid to the strengthening of Iraq's economy as attacks on oil and gas pipelines are comparable to cutting Iraq's economic veins," the minister said.

"Without security the oil industry will never be revived."

01/13/2005 15:22 GMT - AFP

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