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Since 1st March, 1999
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Boat onslaught on Iraq lifeline

Basra, April 25 (Reuters): Suicide bombers launched three boat attacks on Iraq’s vital Basra oil export terminal yesterday, killing three members of US-led forces and forcing the facility to close.

The attacks were the most audacious against Iraqi infrastructure since insurgents bent on disrupting the occupied country’s post-war recovery started targeting oil installations nearly a year ago.

Iraq’s primary oil outlet was not damaged in the attack but it was closed and workers were evacuated. However, oil exports from the terminal were restarted today, a top Iraqi official said.

Shamkhi Faraj, head of the State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) said the attacks had not damaged the oil infrastructure and that Basra Light exports had resumed from the Gulf at a rate of about 1.6 million barrels per day. “The order was issued earlier today to resume pumping and loading is normal,” Faraj said, adding that two tankers were filling up at the terminal, while one ship was at nearby Khor al Amaya.

The SOMO chief described the attacks as a one-off incident and hoped for business as usual.

“There will be more care taken now to prevent this happening again,” he said. “We will need to have more safeguards and more patrolling.” He said that a team of officials from the South Oil Company would investigate the incident at the terminal, some 10 km offshore.

Iraq is almost completely dependent on the terminal, which is in Britain’s sector of occupation in the country, for exports to provide revenue for a country battered by wars and a 12-year economic embargo.

Three US navy sailors died from wounds sustained in the attack on the terminal, the US Navy’s Bahrain- based Fifth Fleet said today. “The coalition boarding team were killed and wounded as a result of three concurrent waterborne attacks in the Arabian Gulf,” it said.

It said an eight-man interception team had approached a bomb-rigged boat when it exploded. Twenty minutes later, two unidentified small boats also blew up, the statement said. The wounded were being treated in Kuwait.

A British defence ministry spokeswoman in London said: “A boat exploded next to (the terminal). But there was no damage to the oil terminal or the boat alongside it. As far as I know there were no British casualties.”

Two oil tankers had been scheduled to load two million barrels each at the terminal around the time of the attacks.

More attacks

In more violence across the country, a roadside bomb struck a US military convoy on the outskirts of Falluja today, destroying one military vehicle and inflicting casualties, Iraqi witnesses said.

Katyusha rockets hit a hospital, a hotel and a police facility in Mosul today, killing two hospital and two hotel workers and wounding 13 people, police said. They said a rocket slammed into the Salam hospital in the town, killing two staff and wounding 10 other people. Less than an hour later, a second rocket hit Ashour Hotel in the city centre, wounding three people. Two of the wounded, both hotel workers, died later in hospital.

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