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Attacks on oil pipelines in Iraq drop sharply
BAGHDAD -- A sharp drop in attacks on pipelines has enabled Iraq to increase oil exports from northern oil fields and profit from the rise in world energy prices, the country's oil minister said Friday.
Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said pipeline attacks fell from an average of 30 a month in 2007 to only four last month. Most of the attacks had been in the north, where Sunni insurgents were active.
Al-Shahristani told Al-Sharqiya television that the reduction in attacks has enabled Iraq to export more oil from the northern oil fields around Kirkuk to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
The northern pipeline had been frequently shut down for extended periods during the past four years because of sabotage.
Iraq's oil exports, most of which come from southern oil fields around Basra, have risen above 2 million barrels a day for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, the Oil Ministry said this month.
Officials expect the figure to rise further this month because of increased activity at the northern fields.
The boost in exports is providing Iraq with a financial windfall as it struggles to rebuild the country after decades of war, U.N. economic sanctions and misrule.
Al-Shahristani has said the country expects to reap $70 billion in revenue by year's end if world prices remain high.
Al-Shahristani, a Shiite, attributed the drop in attacks to better security provided by "awakening councils" -- Sunnis who have abandoned the insurgency and now provide protection in their home areas.
He said the Oil Ministry was recruiting more guards from among Sunni tribes to protect the pipelines, especially the export line to Ceyhan.
"A year ago, terrorism was active. But now we are seeing great cooperation from the tribes living in the areas where the pipeline passes," he said.
Iraq sits on an estimated 115 billion barrels of oil and it also has an estimated 112 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, according to the Oil Ministry.
Despite improvements in security, violence continues, especially in northern areas of the country where al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni militants still operate.
The U.S. military said an American soldier was killed and five others were wounded in a series of bombings in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.
At least 11 Iraqi policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, police reported.
A car bomb exploded late Friday near a restaurant in Baghdad's Harithiya neighborhood, killing one person and wounding nine others, police said.
Fears rose about security in the southern oil fields last March when heavy fighting broke out in Basra between government forces and Shiite militias, including the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
But a cease-fire mediated in Iran brought an end to the Basra fighting, and the Iraqi army moved quickly to assume control of areas of the city dominated by the militias for years.
On Thursday, Iraqi forces moved into the southern oil-producing city of Amarah, believed to be the hub of networks smuggling weapons from Iran to Shiite extremists in Iraq.
The U.S. military, which is supporting the Amarah operation, said troops seized hundreds of mines, mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and four homemade rocket launchers in the vicinity of the city, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad.