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PostSubject: IRAQ...   IRAQ... I_icon_minitimeSat Feb 26, 2011 12:02 pm

Attack shuts Iraq's largest oil refinery, kills 1

By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press Sinan Salaheddin, Associated Press – 19 mins ago
BAGHDAD – Gunmen attacked Iraq's largest oil refinery before dawn Saturday, killing a guard and detonating bombs that sparked a fire and forced the facility to halt operations, officials said.

A few hours later, a small refinery in the south shut down after a technical failure sparked a fire in a storage unit, an official said.

If not fixed swiftly, the two shutdowns could translate into long lines at fuel stations and longer electricity outages. The dearth of reliable electricity — some Iraqis get just a few hours a day — was one of the leading complaints of protesters during violent anti-government protests across Iraq on Friday.

The attack on Iraq's largest refinery, Beiji, began at about 3:30 a.m. Assailants carrying pistols fitted with silencers attacked guards and planted bombs near some production units for benzene and kerosene, said the spokesman for Salahuddin province, Mohammed al-Asi.

One guard was killed and another wounded, al-Asi said.

Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said an investigation would be launched and that he hoped operations could resume shortly.

The Beiji refinery, located about 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Baghdad, has two sections. The attackers targeted the installation's North Refinery that handles 150,000 barrels a day. The second section, the Salahuddin Refinery, is under renovation. It used to process 70,000 barrels per day.

At the height of the insurgency from 2004 to late 2007, the Beiji refinery was under control of Sunni militants who used to siphon off crude and petroleum products to finance their operations.

Hours after the Beiji facility was attacked, a small refinery in Samawa, a city on the Euphrates River about 230 miles (370 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, went offline due to a fire in the storage unit, according to a local official.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release information, said the fire was caused by a technical failure, not foul play. He wouldn't say when work would resume at the plant which has the capacity of 30,000 barrels of a day.

Iraq's overall refining capacity is currently slightly over 500,000 barrels per day. Its three main oil refineries — Dora, Shuaiba and Beiji — process slightly over half of the 700,000 barrels-per-day capacity they had before the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Iraq sits on the world's third-largest known oil reserves with an estimated 115 billion barrels, but its production is far below its potential due to decades of war, U.N. sanctions, lack of foreign investment and insurgent attacks.

Iraq has been importing refined products since 2003 because of the dilapidated refining sector and booming local demand.

Saturday's closures could spell trouble for Iraqi consumers, especially at a time when the weather is just beginning to warm and more citizens will be relying on their air conditioning.

Also Saturday, health officials and police said two teens, ages 12 and 18, died of injuries sustained in the anti-government protests, bringing the death toll for the day to 14. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.

On Friday, thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq in an outpouring of anger, the largest and most violent anti-government protests in the country since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world weeks ago.

The protests, billed as a "Day of Rage, were fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services from the Shiite-dominated government.


Associated Press writers, Hamid Ahmed in Baghdad and Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah contributed to this report.


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PostSubject: Re: IRAQ...   IRAQ... I_icon_minitimeSat Feb 26, 2011 12:14 pm

Iraq protests push for reforms but won't oust govt

..BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Protests by Iraqis are unlikely to rival the uprisings that rocked the Arab world and ousted two regimes, but they will pressure the new government to step up reforms for fear of being asked to resign.

Thousands took to the street on Friday in a nationwide "Day of Rage" inspired by anti-government demonstrations that have spread across the region like wildfire in recent weeks.

Popular revolutions mobilised by youths using social media unseated Tunisia and Egypt's presidents, and threatened long-ruling leaders in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain.

But unlike their regional counterparts, demonstrators in Iraq have rallied against poor basic services such as shortages of food rations, clean water, electricity, and jobs, rather than trying to topple their elected federal government.

The protests will pressure the new government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to step up reforms to curb growing dissent but they will not force the cabinet, installed only two months ago, to step down, at least not for now, analysts said.

"The government needs to understand that these protests raise a very strong alarm...The fear of judgment, scandals and dismissal will make them (politicians) work hard and respond to the people's demands," Iraqi analyst Hashim al-Habobi said.

"Will what happened in Tunisia and Egypt happen in Iraq? It cannot, because there is no one who brings Iraqis together," he said. "But protesters always start with certain demands and wait for a response... There is a fine line between demanding reforms and demanding to oust (a government)."

Despite its vast oil reserves, the OPEC member is still trying to shake off years of war, sanctions and sabotage and rebuild its battered economy and crumbling infrastructure.

But Iraqis are fed up by the slow development of their governments. There is little clean running water and no proper sewage system. The national grid supplies only a few hours of power a day, eight years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, promising Iraqis a free and prosperous future.

Analysts said demonstrators are still not united in their demands, which would take years to address, but they may ask for the removal of the government eventually if there are no concrete steps to calm their simmering anger.

"At this stage protests are focused on the government's inability to provide better public services," said Gala Riani of IHS Global Insight.

"It is possible that if protests become severe that the government will struggle to keep itself together."

A wave of demonstrations in the past weeks forced Maliki to soothe anger by cutting his pay, reducing electricity bills, buying more sugar for the national food ration programme and diverting money from fighter jets to food.


Protesters in the oil hub of Basra demanded the governor and members of the provincial council step down.

They raised their shoes in their hands, a sign of contempt, and carried small oil lanterns, to demonstrate the lack of electricity, a major complaint among Iraqis.

"The people demand the reform of the regime", "No to corruption", and "Have compassion for the oppressed prisoners", were some of the slogans on banners or chanted by demonstrators.

In the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, thousands of demonstrators poured into the city's Tahrir (Liberation) Square, either holding the Iraqi flag or wrapping themselves in it. They ranted about the poor sewage and education systems, and a lack of jobs.

"I came here because I want a better standard of living," said 54-year-old Zuhair Abdul-Khaleq, a Baghdad taxi driver. "There is no electricity, no water. I don't have a pension. I don't have food rations or a share in the oil."

Some protesters demanded a change in the government and that the newly elected parliament fulfils its electoral promises. Maliki's Shi'ite-led government was seated in late December after months of tense negotiations between Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions after an inconclusive vote last March.

"For now, the government may continue to take measures such as raising electricity subsidies and tackling corruption, to pacify the angry population," said Riani. "However, many of the grievances ... will take years to address."

Iraq Protests

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