* Iraqi oil official confirms halts due to attack
* A week to fix damage, resume exports
* Election heightens tensions
(Adds quotes, details)
By Jamal al-Badrani
MOSUL, Iraq, April 22 An explosion in Iraq's
northern province of Nineveh damaged the Iraq-Turkey oil
pipeline and it may take as much as a week to restart exports,
Iraqi officials said on Thursday.
Police blamed a bomb planted by suspected Sunni Islamist
insurgents fighting to undermine the Shi'ite majority propelled
into power after the 2003 fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
While overall violence in Iraq has fallen sharply, sectarian
tensions were stoked last month after an election that produced
no outright winner.
"We are sure now that it was sabotage not a technical
failure... The time frame to fix the pipeline and resume pumping
oil is about a week," an official at state-run North Oil Co told
Reuters on condition of anonymity. "The pipeline was attacked."
Nineveh, on the frontline of a potentially explosive dispute
over oil, land and power between Kurds in their semi-autonomous
northern enclave and Iraq's majority Arabs, remains a stronghold
of insurgent activity, including al Qaeda.
The pipeline from the Kirkuk oilfields to the Turkish port
of Ceyhan, which carries around a quarter of Iraq's exports, was
last attacked in December. Technical problems halted the flow of
oil in January for several hours.
Iraq's oil infrastructure is dilapidated after decades of
war, sanctions and underinvestment and the U.S. military has in
the past said it found no evidence of sabotage, only of metal
fatigue, after explosions Iraqi officials blamed on bomb blasts.
Iraqi oil in storage at Ceyhan was about 650,000 barrels, a
Turkey-based source said on condition of anonymity. Another
shipping source put stores at 300,000 barrels.
One shipping source in Ceyhan said the flow of oil stopped
completely at 0400 (0100 GMT) on Thursday, adding that there was
one vessel waiting to load 1 million barrels of Iraqi crude.
"There have been technical problems at pump stations on the
Turkish side of the pipeline. The flow has been intermittent for
a while... I've no idea when it will start again," the source
The blast, which occurred south of Mosul in al-Hadhar
district, 280 km (175 miles) north of Baghdad, made a hole in
the pipeline, a police source told Reuters.
The pipeline has a capacity of 1.6 million barrels per day
and typically pumps 500,000 bpd.
Iraq's oil exports fell in March to 1.79 million bpd from
2.083 million bpd the month before, including an average of
1.380 million bpd from the southern oil hub of Basra and 410,000
bpd from the northern oilfields around Kirkuk.
Iraq's oil infrastructure has come under attack frequently
since 2003, hampering Iraqi efforts to boost lacklustre oil
production and exports above pre-invasion levels. The attacks
have eased considerably, however, as the sectarian bloodshed
receded, in particular in the Shi'ite south where most of Iraq's
crude is produced.
Iraq is now on the verge of a major expansion of its oil
industry after signing 10 deals with international oil firms to
develop some of its biggest oilfields, and boost its capacity to
Saudi levels of 12 million bpd from 2.5 million bpd now.
(Additional reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, Suadad
al-Salhy in Baghdad, Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul and Simon
Webb in Dubai; Writing by Rania El Gamal and Mike Christie;
Editing by Keiron Henderson)