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Targeting weak points: Iraq's oil pipelines
By Richard Giragosian

As with all models of asymmetrical warfare, a central element in the strategy of the Iraqi insurgency has been to attack weak point targets of least resistance, mainly through rudimentary attacks on supply lines, transports, or convoys and sabotage of the most vulnerable points of the Iraqi infrastructure. Seeking to enhance the disruptive effects of their attacks, the insurgents have also implemented specific attacks on the networks of oil pipelines.

Tactically, these attacks seek to disrupt the overall reconstruction effort and, with the Iraqi oil sector playing such a significant role both in terms of post-conflict economics and regional geopolitics, also serve as a major psychological blow to the stabilization effort.

These attacks on pipelines have centered on the inherent vulnerabilities of the pipeline networks, an element of the infrastructure that although fairly easy to repair, remains difficult to defend. Additionally, insurgents have attacked related targets: electrical grids and transmission lines, oil installations and facilities, and storage tanks.

Vulnerability of pipelines: Fostering a north-south divide
With a network of some 6,000 kilometers of oil pipelines, the simplicity of acts of sabotage and damage offer a relatively easy and inviting target for insurgents. The attacks on oil production in the northern sector of Iraq, for example, are seen as one of the most daunting short-term obstacles to the imperative of reconstructing the country's energy sector. Oil industry analysts have affirmed that the oil field sabotage in the north is now markedly greater than in the south of the country, where oil production has risen steadily over the past months.

Some Iraqi oil, perhaps as much as 200,000 to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), is being reinjected into oil reservoirs in the north due to constraints on both domestic processing ability as well as export outlets. As of August 2003, roughly 40 percent of northern Iraqi production was being transferred to the Baiji refinery, with the balance reinjected into the fields, ostensibly to maintain pressure. This means, however, that crude oil production is overstated by a level equivalent to the volume of oil reinjected (as it is not available for refining or export, but is still counted as production).

As of December 2003, total oil production in Iraq recovered to a daily average of almost 2 million barrels per day (mbd), excluding the crude oil that is being reinjected, with exports reaching almost 1.5 million mbd. But the vast majority of that output is from the southern fields, with the targeting of the northern sector seriously hindering production in the northern fields. This north-south divide also has important implications for domestic politics and stability, and exacerbates the complexities of power between the self-sufficient Kurds in the north, the emboldened Shi'ites in the south and the disgruntled Sunnis in between.

The key factor constraining future growth in Iraqi oil production centers on its export capacity. Current exports of crude oil are limited to only one external route: passage through the Mina al-Bakr terminal on the Persian Gulf. This reliance on a sole export route is an inherent restraint on potential export expansion, especially as the Mina al-Bakr terminal is now nearing its operational capacity. And although there are plans to reopen a second port facility at the nearby Khor al-Amaya, with an initial capacity of about 500,000 bpd, this is not likely in the short term. This constraint only elevates the strategic importance of the export pipeline route to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

The northern pipeline from Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan was attacked twice in June 2003 and the pipeline from the giant Rumeila field in the south was also blown up twice by insurgents. With a nominal capacity of 1.6 mbd, the 480-kilometer Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline accounted for some 40 percent of Iraqi pre-war oil exports, but has yet to fully reopen since the March/April 2003 war for any sustained use beyond tests of its general technical condition. The Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline is also expected to be limited to only about 500,000 bpd for the medium term. Nevertheless, this pipeline is strategically important but is an especially vulnerable target given its route southwest through Bayji in the Sunni triangle where resistance is strongest, before turning north towards Turkey.

The economic costs
According to some market analyses, the level of attacks in the northern fields seriously questions the likelihood for any resumption of crude oil exports through the oil pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea. The economic costs of these attacks and disruptions are also serious. Specifically, the blockage of oil exports from the northern fields to the port of Ceyhan costs Iraq in two ways. The first economic cost stems from the fact that a functioning and secure export route, such as the route to Ceyhan, offers a fairly quick avenue toward a significant rise in the total Iraqi output, perhaps by as much as an additional 1 million bpd. This is seen in the levels that Iraq achieved several years before the March/April 2003 war even despite the poor overall state of its oil infrastructure.

The second economic cost is just as important, particularly as it affects the most vulnerable of the population. The sabotage of the oil industry directly affects the Iraqi population by creating sudden and severe shortages of refinery products such as gasoline and, as sabotage of targets ranging from pipelines to electricity stations that provide power to refineries, coupled with technical breakdowns due to faulty machinery, have led to a chronic shortage of gasoline and heating oil throughout much of the country.

The resulting shortages of crucial oil products also lead to greater Iraqi frustration and anger, and exacerbate a lessening of credibility and legitimacy for the coalition. For example, as the price of the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) has doubled in recent months, all Iraqi families are affected since they rely on it for all cooking, and especially for the hobutz flat bread, a basic staple for all Iraqi families.

To offset these shortages, the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has begun a broad effort to import gasoline from Kuwait, although this has led to some problems with allegations of unfair/improper pricing arrangements with Kuwaiti suppliers. Additional imports of oil products by truck from Turkey were also curtailed in late 2003, as drivers have come under increased attack on northern roads.

The nature of attacks on pipelines and infrastructure
There are generally two types of these attacks: the first comprising a general looting and plundering of the oil infrastructure, including fields, pumping stations, pipelines, and refineries. In this first category, elements of organized (and unorganized) crime are involved, as demonstrated with the seizure of a barge carrying 1,000 tons of stolen Iraqi oil. Smugglers are typically shipping oil to Iran, which then re-flags and re-exports it.

The second type of attacks is a much more serious threat and comes from the real insurgency, comprising members of the opposition, including Ba'ath or radical Sunni groups like Ansar al-Islam, and fringe al-Qaeda elements.

Defending and responding to the attacks
The most important aspect of defending the pipeline network has been the formation of an Iraqi Facilities Protection Force, a form of infrastructure police that utilizes native Iraqis to monitor and guard against pipeline sabotage. First announced in September 2003, the administration initially sought US$60 million to train and equip an "oil infrastructure security force", whose sole purpose will be protecting Iraq's oil facilities. Additional funding was also sought for a "quick reaction pipeline repair team" that would be dispatched to damaged pipelines within 96 hours after the site had been secured. The plan also included measures to provide "continuous personal security" to Iraq's oil minister and his director-generals.

The CPA has also sought to enhance energy security through a complicated combination of security arrangements utilizing US military personnel, independent security contractors, and local tribes living along the pipeline routes. Securing the full 480-kilometer segment of the Ceyhan pipeline is a priority of this plan and the number of Iraqi guards has been steadily increasing past the initial 4,000, with more local tribes being hired to guard the infrastructure.

By November 2003, the plan was progressing rapidly and Colonel Robert Nicholson, chief engineer of the 4th Infantry Division based in northern Iraq, confirmed a force would be in place by mid-November. The force, dubbed Task Force Shield, consists of US military personnel, independent security contractors and local tribes living along the nearly 1,000-kilometer pipeline who have been employed to protect it from saboteurs.

The reliance on a mix of private contractors for pipeline security has been somewhat controversial, however. A $39.5 million contract was signed in August 2003 with the Erinys International security firm of South Africa to improve security along the northern pipeline system. This firm, an international business-risk consultant, is engaged in the recruitment, screening and hiring of some 6,500 Iraqis to guard 140 key installations, including oil wellheads, pipelines and refineries and electricity and water facilities.

Although this firm is also engaged in providing "protection services" to such high-profile contractors as Bechtel and Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root, little is actually known of Erinys International. The Johannesburg-based company is barely a year old, and although its website names five managers and directors, most of whom have been affiliated with Armor Holdings, a Florida-based security company and Defense Systems Limited, a British company which merged with Armor in 1997, its ownership structure remains opaque.

This firm and its staff have been further plagued by a series of questions over its security work in the Niger Delta and Angola, its role in protecting the British Petroleum pipeline in Colombia, and have been subjected to allegations of human rights violations at the Ashanti gold mine in Ghana.

In addition to Erinys, other key players in this privatized security effort include DynCorp, which is recruiting and training the revamped Iraqi police force, and Northrop's subsidiary Vinnell, which is implementing a $48 million contract to train a new Iraqi Army.

Conclusion
The outlook for the Iraqi pipeline security, and for overall energy security, corresponds to the outlook for the broader security situation in the country as a whole. For both energy security and overall stability, the key determinant will be the formation of an effective Iraqi force capable of meeting the daily threats posed by the insurgency to the security of both the energy sector and to the population at large. But the imperative of the economic reconstruction and the need for reliable energy to offset shortages and disruptions in electricity and heating mandate a comprehensive safeguarding of the vulnerable oil sector.

Pattern of attacks
June 12: Attack along the 960 kilometer pipeline that carries crude oil from Iraq's northern fields near Kirkuk to Turkey's port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea.
June 19: Explosion in Bayji refinery complex about 200 kilometers north of Baghdad.
June 22: Explosion in natural gas line near Hit, a city about 152 kilometers northwest of Baghdad.
June 23: Gas pipeline explosion outside the town of Abidiyah Gaarbiga, near the Syrian border in western Iraq.
June 24: Explosion near Barwanah pipeline carries crude to al-Dawrah refinery in Baghdad.
June 26: Explosion near al-Fatha near the River Tigris.

July 29: Attack on pipeline near al-Basrah.
July 31: Saboteurs blew up part of a pipeline near Bayji.

August 12: Attack near al-Taji near Baghdad.
August 15: Explosion near Bayji.
August 16: Explosion near Bayji.

September 8: Attack on pipeline from the Jabour oil field 32 kilometers southeast of Kirkuk to the main pipeline that originates there.
September 18: Attack on pipeline from Kirkuk to Ceyhan.

October 11
: Attack on pipeline from Zab to Kirkuk.
October 16: Pipeline explosion near the city of Hadeetha, 200 kilometers northwest of Baghdad.
October 23: Explosion near natural gas pipeline 48 kilometers south of Mosul.
October 23: Bomb attack on an oil pipeline 240 kilometers north of Baghdad.

November 1
Explosion at oil pipeline about 15 kilometers north of Tikrit.
November 4: Explosion at a pipeline plant in Zumar, 60 kilometers northwest of Mosul.
November 10: Mohammed al-Zibari, distribution manager for the Oil Distribution Company was shot and wounded in the northern city of Mosul in what seems to be the first assassination attempt on officials from an Iraqi oil firm. Zibari's son was killed in the attack.
November 17: Blast 2 kilometers east of the Bayji refinery, at a pipeline taking fuel oil to the Daura refinery, in a southern suburb of Baghdad. Resulting damage on the power supply line to the 300,000 bpd Bayji refinery, located 250 kilometers north of Baghdad, and forced a two-day electricity shutdown.
November 18: Explosion on oil pipeline in the region of Mashruh al-Therthar, southwest of the city of Samarra. The pipeline feeds the Daura refineries in Baghdad.
November 22: Abdel Salam Qanbar, an Iraqi police colonel in charge of security for oil installations in the northern city of Mosul was shot and killed by unknown attackers in a vehicle.
November 22: Club inside the Iraqi Northern Oil Company compound in Kirkuk, 240 kilometers north of Baghdad, was hit during the night by mortar shells wounding three foreign nationals.
November 23: Blast on a pipeline transporting gas from the Jambur oil field to the Bayji refinery caused fire so huge its glow at night is visible from Kirkuk, 30 kilometers north of Jambur.
November 26: Oil pipeline linking oil fields in northern Iraq to the Bayji refinery on fire near the village of Sharqat, about 48 kilometers north of Bayji.

December 9
: Explosion on a gas pipeline that runs from Kirkuk to a bottled gas factory north of Baghdad.
December 10: Explosion at point 135 kilometers west of Kirkuk on oil pipeline linking the Bayji and Daura refineries.
December 19: Blaze on a pipeline south of Baghdad causing significant leakage.
December 20: Rocket-propelled grenades hit storage tanks in southern Baghdad. The resulting fires burned about 2.6 million gallons of gasoline. Also, rocket-propelled grenades cause pipeline explosion in the al-Mashahda area 24 kilometers north of Baghdad.
December 21: Explosion on pipeline in the al-Mashahda region, 50 kilometers north of Baghdad. Pumping station near Bayji refinery attacked with mortars.
December 22: Explosion in Riad about 45 kilometers west of Kirkuk on fuel pipeline between Kirkuk's oil fields and Iraq's biggest refinery in Baiji, parallel to the crucial pipeline between Kirkuk and the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Fire on pipeline supplying Bayji refinery with crude from the oil fields of Kirkuk at point about 50 kilometers northeast of refinery.

January 7
: Explosion hits pipeline connecting oil fields to a pumping station in the area around Hassiba, 135 kilometers west of Kirkuk. Northern Oil Company Director General Adel Kazzaz said, "The fuel line was used for domestic market needs and filling up tankers that export crude."

Copyright (c) 2004, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036

 
Jan 27, 2004





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