Coalition Battles Sabotage, Smuggling of Iraqi Gasoline

By Jim Garamone

Coalition personnel are working with the Iraqi Ministry of Oil to head off gasoline smuggling, sabotage of the oil industry infrastructure and black-market profiteering. Officials said these continue to be among the greatest problems facing the Iraqi people.

Coalition spokesman Dan Senor and Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the operations deputy at Combined Joint Task Force 7, briefed the press in Baghdad today. Senor talked about steps the coalition is making to combat the gas shortage that is plaguing life in Iraq.

Senor cited a number of causes to the gasoline shortage, which has made for long gas lines at neighborhood stations throughout the country. He said prosperity is one reason. There are 250,000 more cars in Iraq since the fall of Saddam, he said, and the increase in demand is one reason for the shortage.

The other cause is a supply problem. "We are dealing with antiquated, chronically under-invested oil equipment and infrastructure," Senor said. "This infrastructure is highly susceptible to sabotage and attacks."

He said Iraqi security forces are working with coalition military personnel to address those problems. "Iraqi security forces are stepping up their security at gas stations (and) at production facilities at these critical areas across the country," he said. The Iraqis have stopped a number of attacks on gas production facilities, he said, and have arrested gasoline smugglers in Samarra and outside Baghdad.

Iraqi clerics across the country have joined the effort to stop attacks and oil profiteering, Senor said. The clerics have issued strong statements and, in some cases, fatwas — religious edicts — condemning the practices.

Though it will take time to address the root cause, Senor said, moves are being made to improve the quality of the infrastructure, to build in the necessary redundancy and to make the oil industry less vulnerable to attacks.

Kimmitt said coalition forces continue to attack the enemy across Iraq. The coalition conducted 1,639 patrols, 40 offensive operations and 29 raids, and captured 101 anti-coalition suspects in the past 24 hours, he said at today’s press briefing, which began at 9 a.m. EST. Iraqi security forces participated in many of these operations, he added.

In the north, coalition forces conducted cordon-and-search operations. In Mosul, U.S. soldiers moved against a possible safe house for terrorist activities. They also conducted a second operation that killed three enemy personnel and captured three individuals. "Other operations resulted in the capture of three additional targets, including the associate of a ranking high-value target," Kimmitt said.

Coalition forces also reopened two bridges in Sulaymaniyah, a small city east of Kirkuk.

In a central-area operation, coalition forces that included Iraqi police, members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the Iraqi Border Patrol captured 43 enemies.

Coalition forces also found a large weapons cache outside Samarra. Soldiers found a large number of weapons and bomb-making material. They also found al Qaeda literature and ceramic body armor.

In Baghdad, coalition forces conducted six raids as part of the continuing Operation Iron Grip, Kimmitt said. Soldiers captured 13 enemy personnel.

Senor and Kimmitt were grilled on reports that the Iraqi security forces were not up to the challenge they face. About 70,000 Iraqi police are on duty now, roughly 7,000 of them in Baghdad. Senor said people must remember that there were no Iraqi police in May. He said that despite a robust vetting process for Iraqis joining the security forces, mistakes are made, and when they are discovered, they are rectified, he said.

Kimmitt said given a choice between having perfectly trained security forces later vs. "sufficiently trained" forces now, coalition commanders would go for the latter. He said the Iraqi forces working alongside coalition personnel provide intelligence, translation services and can act as the intermediaries. "If you have to go into a mosque, for instance, you don’t go in with a coalition soldier, you go in with an Iraqi soldier," he pointed out.

"On balance," he said, "the commanders would come back and say the decision to not wait until we had the perfect solution was the wise one, was the prudent one and one that has probably saved a significant number of coalition lives in the process."