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Last Updated: Friday, 4 April, 2003, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Desperate Iraqis steal future assets
By Vanessa Allen
Near Basra, southern Iraq

Oil fields
Iraqi oil fields are at risk

The value of Iraq's oil industry to the country after the war could be dented if locals do not stop looting from oil plants, Army officials have said.

The US and British forces have vowed that the country's oil reserves - among the largest
in the world - will be protected for the Iraqi people and their revenue used to fund the reconstruction of the war-torn country.

But desperately poor Iraqis have begun looting from plants in the south, taking metal to sell as scrap in order to buy wheat and sugar.

This has posed a problem for the British Army in the areas as they do not have the manpower to patrol the entire oil industry infrastructure.

Looting 'obvious'

Officers visited a Gas Oil Separation Plant (GOSP), where the evidence of looting was plain to see.

Cobwebs hung on the dials of the plant but all available metalwork was gone, taken in the space of the two days since officers first visited the plant.

Iraqi people getting food
Many Iraqi people are desperate poor

The oil industry in Iraq already needs massive investment to make up for years of neglect under the sanctions imposed in the wake of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

Looting would make the necessary investment still greater, and would slow down efforts to get the industry running again after the war.

But for ordinary Iraqis, struggling with day-to-day existence, such arguments are academic in the face of an opportunity to make enough money to feed their families.

Lieutenant Colonel Alistair Deas, the commanding officer of the 2 Close Support Regiment of the Royal Logistic Corps, who visited the GOSP near Basra yesterday, said he was not surprised by the looting.

"The local people, who are poor, are coming here to get building materials, wiring and electrical materials," he said.

Iraq's oil riches are massive and the country has an estimated capacity to produce six million barrels a day, which would make it the fourth largest producer in the world - behind Saudi, the US and Russia - and a major economic force.

  • This is pooled copy from PA's Vanessa Allen, near Basra, southern Iraq.

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