BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – Insurgents sabotaged an exporting oil well in Iraq on Friday, stepping up pressure on the U.S.-backed government struggling to steer Iraq through a political crisis over a draft constitution.
In an all too familiar scene in a country with the world”s third largest oil reserves, flames threatened to halt output from the well, which pumps 7,000 to 10,000 barrels per day (bpd) and feeds a pipeline to Turkey.
An Iraqi oil official said firefighters were battling the blaze in the northern Kirkuk oilfields, which have been spared the relentless attacks on domestic and export oil pipelines in the region.
Hours after the parliament speaker announced politicians needed more time to finalise the constitution after relentless wrangling, insurgents reminded them of economic turmoil with the well blast.
Whether or not guerrillas intended it that way, the attack was a potent reminder that multi-ethnic Kirkuk is one of the most emotionally-charged issues in Iraqi politics.
The Kurds, who are demanding more autonomy for their de facto state in the north in the constitution, say Kirkuk should rightfully be part of their region while Arab Sunnis and Turkmen lay claim to the oil centre too.
Frequent sabotage of oil pipelines has deprived state coffers of badly needed oil revenue and the attack on the Kirkuk oilfields raises new questions about repeated government vows to protect the country”s strategic natural resource.
"This is a very big problem. The well head was damaged and the fire is spreading. They are trying to stop it," the oil official told Reuters.
Guerrilla sabotage has deprived Iraq of billions of dollars in crude oil sales that the U.S. and Iraqi officials had hoped would fund rebuilding after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Iraq has been sending intermittent crude supplies to a storage facility at the border and then on to Turkey”s Ceyhan terminal for export.
But those efforts are still vulnerable to sabotage which can put the whole process on hold again for repairs.
The official said three million barrels had recently been shipped to Ceyhan. That oil will be sold to British, French and Spanish companies — the winners in a rare oil sale tender.
The relentless guerrilla campaign, which also includes suicide bombings and the killing of officials and civilians, has forced Iraq to rely almost entirely on its southern oilfields for exports.
But they too are vulnerable. Saboteurs targeted a power station outside Baghdad on Monday, leaving the southern port city of Basra and the capital in the dark for 12 hours and halting export flows from the country”s Gulf terminal.
Iraq is exporting about 1.5 million bpd, below its pre-war capacity of 2.2 million bpd.