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Coalition Troops Take Control of Oil Installations in Southern Iraq - 2003-03-21

Allied forces in Qatar say British troops have established a beachhead in southern Iraq, where they have taken control of oil production facilities on the Faw Peninsula. Coalition spokesmen say U.S. and British troops are advancing on the southern Iraqi cities of Basra and Umm al-Qasr.

A British spokesman at the coalition's main forward command post at As-Sayliyah, outside the Qatari capital of Doha, says British Marines have secured important Iraqi oil installations on the Faw Peninsula.

Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie McCourt told VOA News that, as a result of the seizure, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will be unable to dump oil in the Gulf and create an ecological disaster, as he did in 1991. "The oil infrastructure has not been damaged, and, thus, any attempt by Saddam to release oil to create an environmental disaster has been avoided," he said.

British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon says Iraqi troops set fire to about 30, out of hundreds of oil wells in southern Iraq.

Meanwhile, coalition spokesmen said a joint expeditionary force made up of U.S. Marines and British troops is advancing toward the key cities of Basra and Umm al-Qasr. One official says the Marines ran into mortar fire as they took control of the main highway leading to Basra, Iraq's second biggest city.

One U.S. Marine died from his wounds during the advance on the Rumeila oil field.

He was the first man to die in combat during the present hostilities. A helicopter crash earlier killed at least 12 British and American troops. But officials believe that was an accident.