Fuel Pipeline Explodes West of Baghdad
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ A fuel pipeline exploded and caught fire west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said, and flames were seen Sunday reaching high into the sky.
The cause of Saturday’s explosion near the town of Hit, about 95 miles west of Baghdad, was being investigated, U.S. Military spokeswoman 1st Lt. Mary Pervez said. There were no U.S. casualties, she said.
No other details were immediately available.
Also in Hit, two U.S. soldiers were injured when their Humvee hit a ``landmine or other explosive device″ on Saturday, said Maj. Sean Gibson, a U.S. military spokesman. He said the injuries were not considered serious and that the soldiers were being treated at a combat support hospital.
The pipeline explosion occurred a day before Iraq was to restart its first postwar oil exports.
Officials had announced earlier that crude exports would begin Sunday from storage facilities in the Turkish oil terminal Ceyhan.
Turkish workers Sunday were preparing to load 1 million barrels of Iraqi crude onto the Turkish tanker Ottoman Dignity in a ceremony to be attended by senior Iraqi, U.S. and Turkish oil officials at the Mediterranean oil terminal, at the end of a twin pipeline running from Iraq’s northern oil fields.
The Ottoman Dignity will carry the oil to a Turkish refinery on the Aegean coast.
The export of crude from Iraq, which has the second largest oil reserves in the world, would be a major step for the country, which is in desperate need of funding to repair battered infrastructure, including its oil facilities, and rebuild an economy devastated by more than 12 years of U.N. economic sanctions.
However, Iraqi oil officials in Kirkuk, 150 miles north of Baghdad, said Sunday that the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline is still not ready to begin carrying crude.
Full restart of Iraq’s oil exports, around 2 million barrels a day before the war, have been delayed due to damage caused by saboteurs, including two explosions earlier this month.
The pipeline damaged Sunday was in a different part of the country and was not expected to affect the Kirkuk-Ceyhan operations.
Walid Jawad, director of projects for the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, said that most of the damage from sabotage has been repaired but a lack of good communication with Turkey and the looting of control mechanisms have delayed a resumption of pumping.
He said Iraq still needs to import some materials to get the controls up and running.
The pipeline stopped pumping during the U.S.-led war on Iraq, when shipping was stopped and the Ceyhan storage tanks filled to their capacity of 8 million barrels.
AP writer Borzou Daragahi contributed to this report from Kirkuk.