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Christiane Amanpour: Oil fields appear to be OK

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CNN's Christiane Amanpour

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(CNN) -- Coalition forces have secured the Rumaila oil fields in southern Iraq, and British engineers there said they have not yet found any apparent attempt by the Iraqis to sabotage operations. But a few of the nearly 500 oil wells in the area are on fire.

CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour talked Sunday with CNN Anchor Anderson Cooper about the seizure of the key oil facilities and developments around the port city of Umm Qasr.

COOPER: ... Christiane Amanpour ... is somewhere in southern Iraq near some oil wells, which I believe in the rear of her we can see are -- seem to be alight. Christiane, what is the latest where you are?

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AMANPOUR: Anderson, just a word about the Umm Qasr situation. We have been briefed all morning that it seems they weren't completely secure. And as you can see now, they are taking care of it.

We'd also been briefed [Saturday] that some of those holding out, as well as some of those who had surrendered, had been sent down from Baghdad. Those who surrendered had told the U.S. Marines that they didn't want to fight anymore. But clearly those who are still holding out are perhaps part of those same units.

As for where we are, we are in the Rumaila oil fields, which are the big, strategically important, economically important oil fields for Iraq. And the objective here was to take these oil fields and all the gas and oil pumping stations here intact. And that is what they've done. Essentially we've been told, and we've been shown the gas/oil separation pump, which is a very important facility, which eventually pumps the oil down to where it needs to be exported.

What the important thing here, they tell us, is that they have secured those. They have found [no] attempts, they say, yet of any Iraqi booby-trapping or sabotage. Of course, as you know, before this campaign started, people were being briefed very heavily that U.S. and U.K. intelligence had showed them that the Iraqis were planning to blow up their oil fields.

Well, the British royal engineers who have gone in here -- they started eight hours or rather three hours after the actual ground offensive started. They say they have found absolutely nothing yet to show that there was any attempt to booby-trap or sabotage and certainly nothing that shows any orders were executed to do that. There have been several oil wells set on fire. But that, relatively speaking, is a minor situation.

You may be able to see some smoke in the background. That's one of those oil wells. But the important gas/oil separation pump has not been sabotaged in this area.

COOPER: Christiane, we are seeing not only your picture but also very close-up pictures of oil wells that have been set on fire. Quite dramatic pictures from Kuwaiti TV. How are those fires going to be put out? Are the troops you're with capable of that, or are they going to have to call in experts?

AMANPOUR: Well, there are several methods. Again, just to put this in perspective, there is something like 500 oil wells in this area. And according to [Gen.] Tommy Franks [head of U.S. Central Command], nine have been set on fire. And according to the engineers here, even that number they say was being rolled back to seven.

So seven out of 500 is not a huge amount. So what they've done to try to put them out, in some instances, they've turned off the valves in the gas and oil separation pump. In other instances, they have beat it out themselves.

But yes, they are waiting for private contractors who were already in Kuwait waiting to come up here, not just to see about those oil wells, but also to get the oil pumping separation -- the oil and gas separation pumps working again. Because they have not been working for a while.

When the U.K. forces came here, they found no Iraqi engineers or anything at these places. And so essentially it's shut down for the moment. So they're trying to get that up and running as soon as possible.

And just one more issue about this. It was U.S. Marines who came up and did any combat that needed to take place here to secure these fields. And shortly afterward, a couple of hours afterward, in a joint operation, the British engineers and explosive disposal experts came up here and did the turning off of the valves, the securing of these oil facilities.

COOPER: Christiane, from a strategic standpoint, does it make any sense to light -- to have these oil wells lit on fire by Iraqi forces or is it simply a harassment, simply a delaying tactic on their part?

AMANPOUR: Well, it was -- what we've been told here, the assessment was that if that happened in terms of those very few wells, it was perhaps either an individual firing a round into one of those wells and setting that on fire at the mouth of that well, or an attempt to try to obscure the vision of the invading forces. But that has been a futile attempt.

We've also seen oil field trenches around some of these installations. And some of those we can see that the oil is being burnt off. Some of those weren't even set ablaze by the Iraqis. It was an attempt to obscure the vision. That's what we're being told by the military experts here. But it didn't have much effect on the troops who came in.

COOPER: Will those troops stay in that area to secure those oil fields, or did they move on?

AMANPOUR: No. They will stay certainly for the moment. It's now under the British command -- this oil field area -- as the American forces have moved up and toward their main objective, which is Baghdad. But they will stay, and they will obviously be securing the area. And waiting also for those private contractors to come in and get those gas/oil separation plants up and running.

COOPER: And when the Marines moved in, do you have any sense of the level of resistance that they encountered?

AMANPOUR: Yes. We were told by the British that there was a certain amount of resistance about a kilometer away from where we're standing now which is -- apparently was the main pumping station. That's where there was some resistance. ...

But again that was fairly localized, and up until now there's been nothing else to harass them. And they are taking control over this particular part of these important fields. And I may have already said it, but this southern field, the Rumaila oil field, produces somewhere between 50 [percent] and 60 percent of Iraq's oil output.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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