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Threats Halt Flow of Iraqi Oil to Main Terminal in the South

Facilities were at risk, a company executive says. Violence continues in Baghdad and other parts of the country.

August 10, 2004|Henry Chu | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Amid heavy fighting in Najaf, violence continued to roil other Iraqi cities Monday, and threats led executives to halt the flow of oil to the nation's main export terminal in the southern port of Basra.

Militants were patrolling Basra's streets and launching mortar rounds at British troops in the area, witnesses said. At least one British soldier was reported killed.

Jabbar Luaibi of Iraqi National Oil Co. said the company had stopped pumping oil from the southern fields to Basra on Monday because of threats against its infrastructure.

Luaibi added that "thugs" affiliated with the militia of radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, which is engaged in the Najaf fighting, had commandeered two of the company's cars.

Oil sales are Iraq's main source of income, and a protracted stoppage in the flow from the southern fields could severely hurt efforts to rebuild the economy.

Exports from Iraq's northern oilfields have been crippled because the main pipeline that runs to Turkey has been closed since earlier attacks.

On Wall Street, crude oil prices hit a record high near $45 a barrel in the wake of Monday's interruption.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, the government imposed a curfew from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. on the capital's Sadr City slum, where militants from Sadr's Al Mahdi militia have risen up in support of the fighters in Najaf.

Mortar fire and gun battles have hit the Baghdad neighborhood hard, with dozens of people reported dead in the last five days. The Iraqi Health Ministry said five people were killed Monday and 40 injured.

Elsewhere in the capital, followers of the cleric kidnapped a high-ranking police official, and mortar explosions continued to boom into the night, mostly near the heavily fortified Green Zone, which hosts the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices.

In the town of Balad Ruz, northeast of Baghdad, the death toll from an early-morning assassination attempt on the deputy governor of Diyala province rose to seven, the U.S. military said. All of the dead, killed by a suicide car bomber, were Iraqi police officers who had been stationed at the official's home. The deputy governor was wounded but in stable condition.

The continuing violence overshadowed news that five truck drivers from Lebanon, Jordan and Syria who had been held by militants were freed.

Reuters reported that the men's families had received telephone calls from the drivers, who told them they had been released.

Militants who held the two Jordanians had demanded that their company stop working with the U.S. military in Iraq.

The firm, Daoud & Partners -- which provided catering and contracting services to U.S. forces in Iraq -- has announced it will end those operations.

Special correspondent Uthman Ghanim in Basra contributed to this report.

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