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Oil Route Under Constant Threat

The 1,500 strong team guarding Iraq’s oil northern pipeline say lack of manpower, equipment and training puts their lives in danger.
By Nawal Athneel

The protection force charged with ensuring Iraqi oil keeps flowing says lack of training and personnel is costing lives among its members.

The government formed the 1,500 strong team earlier this year to patrol the 480-kilometre pipeline from Kirkuk to Turkey’s Ceyhan oil terminal which has been largely shut down by frequent terrorist attacks.

But force members say they need more briefings in military and security tactics as well as improved physical training if they are to tackle the insurgents from whom they face constant threats. They also complain shifts are too long for such dangerous and tiring work.

Last month, a bomb killed 12 pipeline guards, including the head of the protection team. On May 13, another bomb exploded at the main gathering and pumping station linked to the pipeline.

“We are need training courses to develop our skills,” said Azad Kurshid, a security guard on the pipeline protection force.

Captain Adil Yaha agrees a shortage of soldiers, equipment and proper training is endangering lives. "Traditional methods of training the soldiers are useless for the current situation we are facing right now,” he said.

The North Oil Co, the company which supervises exports from the northern fields and is in charge of the pipeline team, denied the men are inadequately trained.

“Some guards think they need advanced courses in order to protect the pipelines, whereas training for the guards is simple,” said an official who spoke anonymously. “We have been able to continue our work despite the problems we are facing.”

He admitted, however, that guard posts need renovations and that salaries are low.

Protecting the pipeline is vital as oil exports are Iraq’s main source of income.

Before the US-led invasion, the northern pipeline had a capacity of 800,000 barrels per day, but recently has been able to carry only about 100,000 barrels because of continuous acts of sabotage.

In response, the government tried various ways to protect the pipeline, including hiring foreign security firms. It has also considered using the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, to secure the area.

The latest solution, the pipeline security force, has not surprisingly met with a cool response from job seekers. "Why should I put myself in danger while Iraq's oil revenues go to others and not me and my people?" said Awad Hussein, who lives near the pipeline.

Sherzad Jalal, a member of the protection force, added, “We are striving to provide adequate protection for the oil pipelines, yet that will never be achieved unless stability is completely restored in Iraq.”

Nawal Athneel is an IWPR trainee in Iraq.