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Oil Security Chief Killed in Kirkuk Ambush - 2004-06-16

In a further blow to Iraq's efforts to revitalize its oil industry, gunmen ambushed and killed the security chief for a state-run oil company in Kirkuk Wednesday. Meanwhile, gunmen attacked a key oil pipeline in the south for a second straight day.

Police in Kirkuk say the head of security for Iraq's Northern Oil Company, Ghazi al-Talabani, was on his way to work when attackers opened fire on his vehicle. Mr. Talabani was killed and his driver was wounded in the attack.

The security chief was a cousin of Jalal Talabani, the leader of one of the two main Kurdish political parties and a member of the now-disbanded Iraqi Governing Council.

The killing Wednesday in the oil-rich city follows an overnight attack on two oil pipelines feeding storage tanks in the southern Faw peninsula, near the city of Basra. On Tuesday, insurgents blasted the same two pipelines in the area, preventing more than one million barrels of oil a day from passing through the vital southern export route.

A spokesman for Iraq's oil ministry, Assim Jihad, tells VOA that crews are working around the clock to plug leaks in the pipelines and redirect the flow of oil.

Mr. Jihad says the ministry has an experienced staff working on the problem. But he acknowledges the damage is severe, estimating that repairs could take up to 10 days to complete.

Analysts say that repair time could mean tens of millions of dollars a day in lost revenue. They also predict Iraq will probably not meet its export target of 2 million barrels a day for June. Iraq has been producing about 1.6 million barrels per day.

Several other Iraqi oil pipelines were also attacked last week, including a major attack on a pipeline linking Kirkuk to Turkey. Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi says, overall, the country's oil infrastructure has been attacked more than 130 times in the past seven months, and some $200 million in revenue have been lost as a result.

Oil is Iraq's only independent source of revenue and is seen as key to restoring the country's battered economy. The oil ministry spokesman, Mr. Jihad, says the people responsible for sabotaging Iraq's oil industry are also sabotaging Iraq's economic future.

The spokesman says the interim government plans to use oil revenues to rebuild critical infrastructure in the country, and that will be more difficult if the attacks continue. He says he believes the aim of these attacks is to prevent Iraq from becoming a safe, prosperous nation.