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Looting Slows the Flow of Iraqi Oil

Coalition forces hurry to retrain police as damage to facilities sets back production targets.

May 25, 2003|Warren Vieth | Times Staff Writer

Inside the unit's control bunker, circuits have been severed, electrical components disassembled, power cabinets ransacked. Equipment fragments and broken glass crunch underfoot; wires dangle from the ceiling. No crude oil is flowing through the separator units, which remove natural gas for processing into liquefied petroleum gas used by Iraqis as cooking and heating fuel.

Coalition officials say there simply aren't enough soldiers to guard every well site, export terminal, oil refinery, gas plant and pipeline route.

That much was clear Saturday at the Az-Zubair oil field, where three young looters carried bags of plunder out of the site's abandoned Southern Oil Co. police station, one of 10 operated by the company.

Back at the Basra police station, Nabi and his 11 subordinates were trying to make the best of a miserable situation, sitting on couches that had arrived only an hour before and commiserating about the lack of water, telephones and other customary office amenities. "We haven't had any lunch," one groused.

Some were dressed in civilian clothes; others wore uniforms of various styles and colors. Some carried weapons; others didn't.

But even a weapon offered no assurance of respect.

One of the men unfolded a photocopied letter he was given by U.S. troops who conducted a training session.

"This security guard has the responsibility of guarding these petroleum facilities. Any questions regarding his authority to conduct these duties shall be directed to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines," it said.

"Please do not take his weapon if he has one unless he has employed it wrongly."


Times staff writer Azadeh Moaveni in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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