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Security fears raised by explosion at major Iraqi port - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Firefighters hose down a burned vehicle at the site of a car bomb explosion in Basra, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, July 29, 2013. (AP Photo/ Nabil al-Jurani)

Firefighters hose down a burned vehicle at the site of a car bomb explosion in Basra, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, in this Monday, July 29, 2013, file photo. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

Basra, Asharq Al-Awsat—Four people were injured and a ship was damaged in an explosion in the port of Umm Qasr in the southwest of Basra governorate, Iraq, on Saturday. The port, which is one of the largest commercial ports in Iraq, was put under complete lockdown, with all staff being held at the port and the media being barred from entry.

The explosion, the first at a vital and heavily protected Iraqi installation, reveals fears that the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq has adopted a policy of targeting Iraqi infrastructure, especially in strategically important Basra.

However, a member of the National Iraqi Alliance has accused political parties of being behind the bombing.

The head of the Basra Municipal Council’s security committee, Jabbar Al-Saaidi told Asharq Al-Awsat that “a Volvo truck with an Iraq–Erbil license plate exploded next to a ship berthed at Pier 17 in the Umm Qasr port in the southwest of Basra. The ship was carrying sugar for the Iraqi Trade Ministry.”

“The explosion left four injured and caused material damage,” he said, adding that “security forces began an investigation into the incident to ascertain how the truck was allowed to enter the port and explode. The security forces were holding all port staff and not allowing anyone to leave until investigations were completed.”

Saaidi further added that “initial investigations showed that the incident was a terror attack and was perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq in an attempt to strike Iraqi economic infrastructure, especially in Basra.”

A member of the Energy and Oil Committee of the Iraqi parliament, Susan Al-Saad, criticized security procedures at the port. She said: “There is a weakness in the security plan for the protection of vital installations in Basra, especially since intelligence was given to the security forces days before warning that the Umm Qasr port was a target, as were a number of other border points. But the warning was not taken seriously.”

She added that “the danger could include Iraqi oil pipelines and installations in Basra, and yet we have not seen any action by the security forces on this information despite the fact that this is the first time Iraqi ports have been targeted since 2003.”

An MP for the Basra governorate, Jawad Al-Bazzouni, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there is a great struggle between political parties over Iraqi ports in an attempt to control them, in order to cover up corruption.” He added that “those parties may be behind the bombing, especially if it is proven that this was not an Al-Qaeda terrorist attack.”

“Someone has definitely facilitated the truck’s entry into the port after being paid, and this is the best proof of the prevalence of corruption in Iraqi ports,” he continued. “Basra and its reputation will be damaged by this, and it will also have a negative effect on Iraqi economy.”

Iraq has five commercial ports, all of which are in the Basra region. The largest is Umm Qasr port, which was established in 1965. It was divided into into two ports, a southern one and a northern one, in 2010. Umm Qasr is capable of receiving general goods and containers, as well as passengers. The piers of the two ports are designed to handle 8,850 million tons of cargo a year and can store 614,000 tons a year.