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Attack halves Iraq oil exports

Baghdad, July 3 (Reuters): Guerrillas set a southern oil pipeline ablaze today, halving Iraq’s vital crude exports, in the first major sabotage attack since an Iraqi interim government took over from the US-led occupation.

An oil official said one of two pipelines feeding Iraq’s Gulf terminals was on fire in the Faw Peninsula and a shipping agent said this had cut exports to 960,000 barrels per day.

Oil exports, Iraq’s main economic artery, had recovered to about two million barrels per day after being choked off completely by last month’s attacks on both southern pipelines.

The Iraqi official heading the investigation into alleged corruption in the UN oil-for-food programme was killed in a bomb attack earlier this week, officials familiar with the probe said today.

Ihsan Karim, head of the Board of Supreme Audit, died in hospital after a bomb placed under one of the cars in his convoy exploded on Thursday, the officials said.

US-led troops and Iraqi forces have been on alert for any attacks aimed at disrupting the formal transfer of sovereignty, which occurred on Monday, and Saddam Hussein’s court appearance on Thursday which recalled decades of killings and torture.

Guerrillas killed seven Iraqis today in an attack on a National Guard checkpoint south of Baghdad, the US army said. Insurgents have repeatedly targeted Iraqi security forces. Yet by post-war Iraq's violent standards, it has been a quiet week, with nothing like the wave of bombings and attacks that killed about 100 people on June 24.

Hundreds of Saddam supporters demonstrated today in the town of al-Dawr, north of Baghdad, where US troops caught the former dictator in December. Witnesses said Iraqi police and national guards joined the crowd waving portraits of Saddam.

Bomb factory busted

The US military said it had thwarted potential attacks in Baghdad with raids that uncovered a car bomb “factory” and caches of arms and explosives. Fifty-one people were arrested.

Soldiers found four vehicles, apparently being modified for use in bomb attacks, at one site, while searches elsewhere netted rocket-propelled grenade launchers. “Denying the enemy of the Iraqi people the weapons he uses to kill Iraqi civilians is always a remarkable success,” said Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton.

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