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UK: Iraq torches seven oil wells

This leaflet dropped over southern Iraq by coalition aircraft warns Iraqi troops not to destroy oil wells.
This leaflet dropped over southern Iraq by coalition aircraft warns Iraqi troops not to destroy oil wells.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Retreating Iraqi soldiers have torched seven oil wells in southern Iraq Friday, according to British Chief of Staff Admiral Michael Boyce.

Earlier, UK Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said up to 30 oil wells had been set afire.

British military officials said U.S. Marines are in full control of the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr and that most of Iraq's oil infrastructure on the Al Faw Peninsula is intact.

"Umm Qasr has been overwhelmed by U.S. Marines and is now in coalition hands," Boyce said

In Washington, General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday the oil fields of southern Iraq "should be secured sometime later today."

Earlier, Hoon said: "Most of the oil infrastructure on the peninsula have been secured intact. I can confirm however that the Iraqi regime has set fire to a number of oil wells ... amongst hundreds in southern Iraq.

"The primary aim of our current operations is to prevent further opportunities of such deliberate destruction, and to enable remedial action to be taken as soon as is practical."

In Ar Rumaylah, U.S. Marines battled four oil well fires during the night, managing to bring two of them under control by dawn, said Philip Ray Smith, a pool reporter embedded with Britain's 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery.

Plumes of charcoal gray smoke with flames at the base could easily be seen from a distance, he said.

British Royal Air Force spokesman Jon Fynes told CNN the burning wells were "the real shame."

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is "setting fire to his oil wells and it has no tactical advantage," he said. "The modern weapons that we have don't have to see the targets."

"Once again, he's only hurting his own people, not us," Fynes said.

Groups of specially trained firefighters, or "oil capping teams," were traveling with the Marines, and were trying to contain a third oil well fire Friday morning, leaving only one of the wells burning out of control.

He said a primary objection of the ground troops was to secure the oil wells before Iraqi troops could sabotage them.

But even before the British artillery unit left Kuwait, they were told the four oil and gas separation plants had been set on fire. Smith said the regiment's mission now was to "try and tackle those blazes the best they can."

NOAA image
This NOAA image on Thursday shows oil well fires in Iraq.

These particular refineries are said to be massive and generated a vast amount of oil revenue for Iraq.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said satellite images released on Thursday showed plumes consistent "in detecting oil fires in the past from satellites in space."

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has ordered oil wells to be set ablaze in the past.

After his forces invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and coalition forces were massing together to force them out, Saddam said if he had to be evicted by force, then Kuwait would be burned.

As promised, Iraqi troops set fire to more than 700 oil wells in several Kuwaiti oil fields in 1991 as they were retreating.

Officials from the Kuwait Oil Company reported that all of Kuwait's oil fields had been damaged or destroyed by the Iraqis.

The United States helped Kuwait in an international nine-month effort to extinguish the blazes.

Before the fires, Iraq was responsible for intentionally releasing some 11 million barrels of oil into the Arabian Gulf from January to May 1991, oiling more than 800 miles of Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian coastline.

The amount of oil released was categorized as 20 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and twice as large as the previous world record oil spill.

The cost of cleanup was estimated at more than $700 million.


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