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September 23, 2017

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Saboteurs hit Iraq oil lifeline, cut exports

Saboteurs have struck a new blow to Iraq's vital oil industry, cutting exports to a third of their previous level, shippers said on Tuesday.

Oil Minister Thamir Ghadhban confirmed blasts at a pipeline feeding storage tanks at Basra oil terminal in the Gulf.

"There were two sabotage cases. We are assessing the situation now," he told Reuters.

Shippers in the region said export rates had fallen below 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) from about 1.7 million bpd. Some later said exports from Basra were at a complete halt. An Iraqi industry official said repairs could take seven to 10 days.

Iraqi leaders are desperate to calm a wave of bombings, assassinations and sabotage by shadowy insurgents trying to prove the new interim government cannot rule effectively after the U.S.-led occupation formally ends on June 30.

A suicide car bomber killed 13 people, including five foreign contractors, in Baghdad on Monday, a day after 12 Iraqis died in another suicide attack near a U.S.-Iraqi base.

As the handover nears, U.S. and Iraqi officials are trying to resolve the problem of how to deal with Saddam Hussein and thousands of other detainees held by U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

"The United States is very keen to hand over the ex-president to the Iraqi authorities," President Ghazi al-Yawar told a news conference.

But he said the new government must ensure it can protect Saddam's life until he goes on trial in a fair legal process.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said on Monday all detainees would be handed over to Iraqi control in the next two weeks.

U.S. troops captured Saddam in December. The Americans have held him as a prisoner of war at an unknown location in Iraq.

In London, a British Foreign Office source said "furious negotiations" were under way to thrash out a solution.

"The ultimate goal is that he should be tried by the Iraqis and the question is how we can make that work," the source said. "We may see a fudged agreement under which he would come under semi-U.S control."

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Under international law, prisoners of war must be released once the occupation ends.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said prisoners of war and all other detainees in Iraq should be entitled to due legal process after the June 30 handover.

"What's important for the ICRC is that each will know his legal status and the charges against him. If tried, he should have judicial guarantees," said spokeswoman Nada Doumani.

The Basra pipeline sabotage will resurrect concerns about supplies from Iraq's Gulf ports, which until May had operated largely undisturbed since postwar exports resumed last summer.

Basra and a much smaller terminal at nearby Khor al-Amaya are Iraq's only regularly operating outlets. Its 800,000 bpd northern pipeline to Turkey has pumped sporadically this year due to sabotage. It has been idle for the past two weeks.

Allawi said this month foreign militants were involved in the repeated attacks on Iraq's oil infrastructure.

Basra, in the mainly Shiite south, has stayed relatively calm since radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr launched a revolt against occupation troops in early April.

Most fighting was in the holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala further north, where Sadr's Mehdi Army militia agreed a truce this month under pressure from Shiite religious leaders.

Yawar said Sadr could take part in Iraqi politics after June 30, in the clearest sign yet that Iraq's new leaders have no faith in the confrontational U.S. approach to a man the military had once vowed to "kill or capture".

Sadr last week gave the interim government conditional approval and said he planned to set up a political party that could contest national elections due to be held by January.

Yawar said this was a "smart move" on Sadr's part: "He has supporters, he has constituents, he should go through the political process," the president added.

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