Attacks on Baghdad getting more sophisticated

Insurgents show knowledge of city's energy, water systems

February 21, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Attacks by insurgents to disrupt Baghdad's supplies of crude oil, gasoline, heating oil, water and electricity have reached a degree of coordination and sophistication not seen before, Iraqi and American officials say.

The new pattern, they say, shows that the insurgents have a deep understanding of the complex network of pipelines, power cables and reservoirs feeding Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

The shadowy insurgency is a fractured movement made up of distinct groups of Sunnis, Shiites and foreign fighters, some aligned and some not. But the shift in the attack patterns strongly suggests that some branch of the insurgency is carrying out a systematic plan to cripple Baghdad's ability to provide basic services for its 6 million citizens and to prevent the fledgling government from operating.

A new analysis by some of those officials reveals that the choice of targets and the timing of sabotage attacks have evolved over the past several months, shifting from economic targets to become what amounts to a siege of the capital.

In a stark illustration of the change, out of more than 30 sabotage attacks on the oil infrastructure this year, no reported incident has involved the southern crude oil pipelines that are Iraq's main source of revenue. Instead, the attacks have aimed at gas and oil lines feeding power plants and refineries and providing fuel for transportation around Baghdad and in the north.

In an indication of how carefully chosen the targets are and how knowledgeable the insurgency is about the workings of the infrastructure, the sabotage often disrupts the lives of Iraqis, leaving them dependent on chugging, street-corner generators to stave off the darkness and power televisions or radios, robbing them of fuel for stoves and heaters, and even halting the flow of their drinking water.

The overall pattern of the sabotage and its technical knowledge suggests the guidance of the very officials who tended to the nation's infrastructure during Saddam Hussein's long reign, current Iraqi officials say.

The only reasonable conclusion, said Aiham Alsammarae, the Iraqi electricity minister, is that the sabotage operation is being led by former members of the ministries themselves, possibly aided by sympathetic holdovers.

"They know what they are doing," Alsammarae said. "I keep telling our government, `Their intelligence is much better than the government's.'"

Sabah Kadhim, a senior official at the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said he believed the sabotage was part of a larger, two-faceted plan that included the terror operations that have killed so many Iraqis over the past two years.

The new pattern of sabotage, he said, lays the groundwork for chaos - a deeply resentful populace, the appearance of government ineffectuality, a halt to major business and industrial activities. The second side - the suicide bombings, assassinations and kidnappings - he said, is aimed in large measure at sowing discord among ethnic and religious groups.

"And I think they, honestly, stand a better chance with the first than the second," Kadhim said.

Whatever the source of the plan, it shows clear signs of being centrally controlled, Iraqi and U.S. officials say.

"There is an organization, sort of a command-room operation," Thamir Ghadhban, the Iraqi oil minister, said Thursday. In his area of responsibility, Ghadhban said, "the scheme of the saboteurs is to isolate Baghdad from the sources of crude oil and oil products."

"And they have succeeded to a great extent," he said.

Ghadhban supported his assertions with a map showing that in November, December and January, in widely scattered attacks, insurgents simultaneously struck all three crude oil pipelines feeding Baghdad's Doura fuel refinery, the nation's largest producer of gasoline, kerosene and other refined products.

During that period, more than 20 attacks occurred on a set of huge pipelines carrying oil, kerosene, gasoline and other fuels to Baghdad from oil fields and refineries in the north.

In contrast, in the same region, the map shows an economically crucial crude oil pipeline - one that carries oil for export - was not attacked even once.

The map was prepared by his ministry by cataloging the exact coordinates, dates and nature of the attacks and combining that information with a detailed schematic of the web of pipelines, fuel depots, roads and refineries in and around Baghdad.

Those attacks caused widespread disruptions, including severe gasoline shortages. And Ghadhban said that when he tried to make up for the shortages by trucking the fuel in with tankers, saboteurs went after the fuel convoys and the bridges that they crossed to reach Baghdad.

After allowing a reporter to view on a computer screen the map and an array of other graphs and figures describing the pattern of sabotage, Ghadhban declined to provide a copy; but his ministry's analysis has circulated among other officials in Iraq, and one of them agreed to give a copy of the map to The New York Times.

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