BAGHDAD, Iraq – Insurgents struck at the heart of Iraq’s economic livelihood Wednesday, blasting a major pipeline to halt vital oil exports and killing the top security chief for the northern oilfields.
A rocket slammed into a U.S. logistics base near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, killing three U.S. soldiers and wounding 25 other people, including two civilian workers, the military said.
A mortar exploded in central Baghdad after midnight, setting off sirens in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone headquarters. The coalition said there were no casualties or damage. A rocket or rocket-propelled grenade also landed in the walled garden of the Palestine Hotel, headquarters of numerous Western news organizations, but failed to explode.
Elsewhere, militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his militiamen to leave the holy cities of Najaf and Kufa unless they live there, fulfilling a key aspect of an accord meant to end fighting between his fighters and U.S. troops.
An explosion before dawn Wednesday damaged a pipeline carrying crude oil from Iraq’s southern fields to the Basra oil terminal in the Persian Gulf. Iraqi engineers had diverted crude shipments to that pipeline after another was bombed two days ago.
“Due to the damage inflicted on the two pipelines, the pumping of oil to the Basra oil terminal has completely stopped,” said Samir Jassim, spokesman of the state-owned Southern Oil Co. “Exports have come to halt.”
Exports were halted last month through Iraq’s other export avenue – the northern pipeline from Kirkuk to Ceyhan, Turkey – after a May 25 bombing, Turkish officials said.
Gunmen killed Ghazi Talabani, the official in charge of protecting the northern oilfields, in an ambush in Kirkuk. Gen. Anwar Amin of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps said three gunmen attacked Talabani’s car after his bodyguard briefly left the vehicle in a crowded market.
The bodyguard was wounded. Talabani was the third Iraqi official slain since Saturday.
“What you are seeing here is effectively a terrorist war against Iraq’s critical infrastructure, including the oil infrastructure,” coalition spokesman Dan Senor said. “It is an effort to basically, economically, impoverish the Iraqi people.”
In other developments:
* An Iraqi police officer was killed and five Iraqi civilians were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. convoy in Ramadi. U.S. Marines arrested seven Iraqis, including six members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Force, for alleged involvement in the attack, military officials said.
* Coalition officials said they would hand over the civilian part of Baghdad International Airport to Iraqi authorities about July 1 and the military side by mid-August, a senior coalition official said.
Iraqi police patrol oil pipelines outside Faw, Iraq, on Wednesday after saboteurs blasted a key pipeline for the second time in as many days.