The Washington Times

Iraqi oil pipeline to Syria closed off

April 16, 2003
Section: PAGE ONE

Page: A01


Caption: Close watch: A young camel kept an eye on U.S. forces passing through a presidential compound in Baghdad yesterday. [Photo by AP]

Sgt. Tommy Tomiczek (left) and Cpl. Macca McGarrity searched what is believed to be Iraq's largest ammunition bunker, near Al Amara, yesterday. [Photo by Agence France-Presse]

The U.S. military has shut down an illegal oil pipeline between Iraq and Syria, as allied military operations against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's forces continued to wind down with sporadic fighting yesterday.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters the oil pipeline was not bombed by U.S. and allied forces during the war in an effort to preserve Iraq's infrastructure.

But the flow of oil through the pipeline was cut off to block revenue from benefiting any remaining members of Saddam's government, who the United States says have been fleeing to Syria.

"I am hopeful that they have shut it off, and I have heard that has happened," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "But I cannot assure you that all illegal oil flowing from Iraq into Syria is shut off. I just hope it is."

In the latest charge against Syria, a U.S. official last night accused Damascus of harboring Farouk Hijazi, the former head of Iraq's spy agency.

During Mr. Hijazi's tenure in the mid-1990s as director of external operations for the Iraqi intelligence agency Mukhabarat, the agency tried to assassinate the first President Bush during a visit to Kuwait. Mr. Hijazi has since served as Baghdad's ambassador to Tunisia and Turkey.

"He is believed to be in Syria," the U.S. official told Reuters news agency on the condition of anonymity.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said yesterday that coalition forces spent the day "eliminating remaining pockets of resistance, locating key regime leaders and increasing military contributions to humanitarian assistance."

In Tikrit, U.S. forces began setting up a perimeter around the town to block senior Iraqi regime leaders from fleeing.

Saddam's last stronghold fell to coalition forces Monday with less resistance than expected.

"Special-operations forces have been active in expanding security in the northern Iraq areas of Mosul, Arbil and Kirkuk," Gen. Brooks said.

At the White House, President Bush said Saddam's government is gone. But he stopped short of declaring victory.

"Our victory in Iraq is certain, but it is not complete," Mr. Bush said, noting that "desperate and dangerous elements remain."

Mr. Rumsfeld said only a few Iraqi cities are not under U.S. and allied control.

He also said U.S. forces are working to locate four soldiers missing from the current conflict and Navy pilot Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, who is missing from the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

"We'll continue to work to find them until all have been accounted for," Mr. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon.

Gen. Brooks said coalition forces are deployed in several places along the Syrian border with Iraq and have set up checkpoints to search for fleeing Iraqi leaders.

"We believe that we are having success on preventing free movement by regime leaders out of country, or others into the country for that matter, and our operations will continue," Gen. Brooks said, noting that the Iraqi-Syrian border has not been sealed tightly yet.

Just outside Nasiriyah, the first meeting of potential postwar Iraqi leaders was held yesterday in what is expected to be the first step in creating a new government in the country.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the meeting of about 100 Iraqis who were not part of Saddam's regime will "help pave the way for a free Iraqi government that will eventually be chosen by the Iraqi people."

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that allied military commanders are set to reduce troops and forces - both aircraft and warships - in the region now that major fighting has ended.

"What we're doing right now ... is to try to estimate the number of forces that need to stay to provide basic security, to hunt for weapons of mass destruction, to secure those sites, to do that kind of examination of the intelligence, and so forth," Gen. Myers said.

The U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, which had been set to deploy to the Middle East, has been ordered to cancel its deployment, defense officials said.

Gen. Myers said the allies' quick capture of Baghdad, which was the key to defeating Iraq's military, was tied to the "aggressiveness of coalition forces."

"They very quickly went into the city, probably surprised a lot of people," Gen. Myers said. "They were very effective against the paramilitary, the Fedayeen Saddam, Special Republican Guard, Special Security Organization."

He added that Saddam's forces faded quickly in the face of the allied onslaught.

Asked whether the war had been won, Mr. Rumsfeld would not comment.

Regarding the oil pipeline, Iraq and Syria opened it in 2000 despite protests from the U.S. government that Baghdad's oil exports violated strict limits imposed by the U.N. oil-for-food program.

One pipeline pumped up to 200,000 barrels of oil a day to the Syrian port of Banias from Iraqi oil fields near Kirkuk. A second pipeline was opened in 2001 that shipped oil for Syrian domestic use. Oil industry analysts estimate that the exports provided Baghdad with up to $1.2 billion annually.

The oil smuggling was an indicator of closer relations between Baghdad and Damascus, which in the past had been rivals. Other Iraqi oil has been smuggled out of the country on trucks driven to Turkey and Jordan.

U.S. Special Forces conducted a covert operation to shut a pumping station that is part of the pipeline near the Iraqi-Syrian border, a defense official said, without saying which pipeline had been targeted.

The action followed U.S. government reports that Damascus was helping Saddam's government by providing military equipment and weapons, and permitting regime leaders to find safe haven there.

Bush administration officials yesterday sought to dispel the idea that the U.S.-led coalition will advance onto Syria in the aftermath of Iraq's defeat.

Asked about Syria's role in helping Saddam, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "I don't have anything else to add on that. The president's spoken on it. Secretary [of State Colin L.] Powell has spoken on it. I'll leave that to them."

"There is no list, there is no war plan right now to go attack someone else either for the purpose of overthrowing their leadership or for the purpose of imposing democratic values," Mr. Powell told reporters yesterday.

In Damascus, the Syrian government denied U.S. charges related to Syrian chemical-weapons testing and the harboring of Iraqi fugitives. The government also opposed what it called the U.S. and British military occupation of Iraq.

The Syrian Cabinet "denounced the threatening language and false accusations being directed at Syria by some American officials," the Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

In Iran, a senior government official said Tehran was happy that Saddam had been ousted. But the official, Mohsen Rezaei, told reporters that Syria is Iran's strategic ally.

"We will not engage in military confrontation with the Americans, but will employ all our nonmilitary facilities to prevent such an attack or to support Syria," Mr. Rezaei said.

On Monday, Mr. Rumsfeld said Syria had conducted chemical-weapons tests recently and had allowed supporters of Saddam to enter Iraq and fight U.S. and allied forces.

Mr. Powell also said Monday that Syria could face economic and diplomatic sanctions for helping pro-Saddam elements in Iraq and for supporting terrorism.

In other developments, Gen. Brooks said Special Forces troops continued to conduct "direct action" missions throughout Iraq to locate former government officials and to find facilities with caches of weapons.

Allied forces were also slowly restoring order in Iraq.

"We're seeing a steady decrease in looting and lawlessness as more communities organize themselves, but with coalition support," Gen. Brooks said.