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Attacks Halt Iraqi Oil Exports - 2004-06-16

Iraqi oil exports have come to a halt following another attack on the country's key southern pipeline and a separate attack has killed an Iraqi oil official in what was the third assassination of a member of the Iraqi government in a week. It is uncertain how long Iraq's daily production of nearly two million barrels of oil will be off the market.

The pipeline damaged in this latest insurgent attack was being used to carry oil from another one that had been attacked by saboteurs only days earlier.

Oil trader Raymond Carbone at Paramount Options in New York had this to say. "Iraqi oil is on the verge of being negated completely. The attacks seem to be relentless in their focus to knock the oil out," he noted.

It's not clear how long Iraq's oil will be off the market. What is clear is that any interruption in sales also means an interruption in revenue for Iraq's reconstruction. Frank Verrastro is an energy analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The implications would be that it would take 1.7 million, 1.8 million barrels a day off the world market," he estimated. "If the damage to the pipeline is significant, it could take maybe two weeks to get it back. If it's insignificant, it could be back up in a week to ten days."

At the same time, VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in Baghdad reports gunmen also assassinated an Iraqi official in charge of security at the country's northern oil fields.

Ryu: "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. The security chief was the 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."

There was also another deadly attack on American forces Wednesday. Three U.S. soldiers were killed and the military says more than 20 others were injured when a rocket slammed into a U.S. base north of Baghdad.

With no let up in insurgent attacks, President Bush told several thousand troops at Florida's MacDill Air Force Base, headquarters of the military's Centcom or Middle East command, the mission in Iraq will likely continue long after Iraqis take charge of their country June 30.

"We have come not to conquer but to liberate people and we will stand with them until their freedom is secure," he said.

There was some positive news Wednesday. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose followers have been battling coalition forces since April, has called on his militiamen to return home, in another indication that he may be considering ending his rebellion. U.S. officials had vowed to capture or kill him for his alleged role in the death of a rival Shiite leader last year, but in recent weeks have stopped repeating that threat.