25 March 2003
U.S.-Led Coalition Works to Protect Iraq's Oil Wells
(Oil will play important part in Iraq's post-war prosperity) (890)
By Scott Miller
Washington File Staff Writer
U.S. and British troops are moving quickly to extinguish fires at a
number of Iraqi oil wells and prevent the destruction by Iraqi troops
of strategic oil fields that will be vitally important in ensuring
Iraq's future economic recovery and prosperity.
"United Kingdom and American marine forces are in the southern oil
fields as we speak protecting (the) Iraqis' future," U.S. Army General
Tommy Franks said at a March 24 briefing in Doha, Qatar.
On March 24 the Defense Department announced that it has designated
the army to oversee plans to extinguish oil well fires and to assess
and repair damage to oil facilities during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with civilian commercial
contractors and others, will carry out a plan encompassing the full
range of activities that might be necessary to restore or continue the
operation of the Iraqi oil industry's infrastructure. Besides
extinguishing oil well fires, these activities include damage
assessment, repair or reconstruction of infrastructure, and the
cleanup of oil spills or other environmental damage at oil facilities,
the Defense Department said.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said after coalition forces "saved
the southern oil fields for the Iraqi people," firefighters working to
extinguish fires have uncovered evidence of Saddam Hussein's efforts
to sabotage the oil installations.
Kuwait's senior firefighter, Aisa Bouyabes, told the Associated Press
on March 24 that he found electrical wires at several damaged
wellheads that were the same type as those that Iraqi troops used to
blow up Kuwait's oil wells during the 1991 Gulf War.
In a March 24 statement, British Prime Minister Tony Blair commented
on evidence of Saddam Hussein's intentions to sabotage Iraq's oil
fields and underlined the importance of quickly securing the nation's
"The oil wealth was mined and deep mined at that," Blair said. "Had we
not struck quickly, Iraq's future wealth would even now be burning
President Bush reiterated on March 16 U.S. intentions with respect to
preserving Iraq's oil wealth.
"We will work to prevent and repair damage by Saddam Hussein's regime
to the natural resources of Iraq and pledge to protect them as a
national asset of and for the Iraqi people," Bush said.
U.S. and British efforts to secure Iraq's oil fields are intended to
prevent the type of eco-terrorism Saddam Hussein's regime carried out
during the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraq released over 5 million barrels of oil into the Persian Gulf in
1991 and set over 700 Kuwaiti oil wells on fire as Iraqi troops
retreated, according to the U.S. Defense Department. The Defense
Department estimates that Iraqi destruction of Kuwaiti oil wells
during the Gulf War had an environmental impact 20 times larger than
that caused by the oil spill from the tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaskan
waters in 1989.
Prior to the start of the current conflict, the Defense Department
estimated that any effort by Saddam Hussein's regime to again destroy
Iraq's oil fields would "have the potential to double the disastrous
effects experienced in Kuwait in 1991."
Adlai Amor of the World Resources Institute, an environmental research
and policy organization in Washington, concurred. As Amor explained to
the Voice of America, "Iraq has 2,000-plus oil wells. And so the
potential is much greater."
Iraq holds more than 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves,
second largest in the world behind Saudi Arabia. Iraq's true resource
potential may be far greater, however, as the country is approximately
90 percent unexplored due to years of war sanctions, according to the
U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The EIA estimates that Iraq's Western Desert region could yield an
additional 100 billion barrels of oil. In addition to increased
exploration, greater development of discovered fields and use of
state-of-the-art petroleum technology could also contribute to
increased and sustainable oil production.
The Defense Department estimates that the potential oil income to the
Iraqi people is $20 billion to $30 billion a year, and that these
resources will play an important role in shaping Iraq's economic
In light of the past eco-terrorism of the Iraqi regime and the
importance of oil resources in assuring a viable economic future for
Iraq, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld cautioned Iraqi troops on March 20
not to sabotage oil wells.
"Do not follow orders to destroy your country's oil, which is the
Iraqi people's. They will need it to rebuild their country when that
(Saddam Hussein's) regime is gone," he said. Rumsfeld added,
"following such orders would be to commit crimes against the Iraqi
people. ... Those who follow orders to commit such crimes will be
found and they will be punished."
A senior Defense Department official summed up efforts to protect
Iraqi oil resources at a March 24 Pentagon briefing.
"This is not about the U.S. trying to gain advantage by taking these
oil fields or to preserve its own oil industry", he said. "It is
solely and most importantly to preserve the capability of the Iraqi
people to stand up very quickly after a Saddam regime and become a
functioning, capable member of the economic community."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: