| Moqtada al-Sadr
Baghdad, June 15 (Reuters): Insurgents stepped up pressure on Iraq’s new interim government today with another blow to the vital oil industry just two weeks before a formal end to the US occupation.
Oil minister Thamir Ghadhban confirmed saboteurs blasted an oil pipeline feeding storage tanks at Basra in the Gulf, cutting exports by a third. “There were two sabotage cases,” he said.
In Washington, President George W. Bush said the US will give ousted leader Saddam Hussein to the interim government when there is adequate security to ensure he stands trial.
Bush would not commit to doing so by a June 30 transfer of power, as asserted by Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, but he did not rule it out. In Baghdad, President Ghazi al-Yawar said the US was “keen” to hand over Saddam. But he, too, said the new government must be able to ensure it can protect Saddam’s life until he goes on trial.
Iraqi leaders are fighting a wave of assassinations, bombings and sabotage by guerrillas who are trying to prove the new interim government cannot rule effectively after the June 30 handover of power.
Following yesterday’s blasts near the village of Hamdamiya, 25 km from Basra port, local shipping agents said deliveries to Basra were cut off following the blasts. Shippers said crude export rates had fallen below 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) from about 1.7 million, another setback to efforts to boost export revenues vital for Iraq’s post-war reconstruction.
An Iraqi official said repairs could take seven to 10 days, costing Baghdad nearly $60 million a day at current market prices.
There was no let up in the violence in Baghdad. Gunmen fired on a three-vehicle convoy carrying contractors working for the US-led administration, hitting at least one car, a US military spokesperson said.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said the attackers fired from a road bridge near Baghdad airport but could not confirm reports that some people in the convoy had been killed.
Vehicles carrying foreign contractors have repeatedly come under attack in Iraq, often on the road to Baghdad’s airport.
A suicide car bomber killed 13 people, including five foreign contractors, in Baghdad yesterday, a day after 12 Iraqis died in another suicide attack near a US-Iraqi base.
Basra, in the mainly Shia south, has stayed relatively calm since radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr launched a revolt against occupation troops in early April. Most fighting was in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala further north, where Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia agreed a truce this month under pressure from Shia religious leaders.