Gunmen attacked Iraq’s largest oil refinery yesterday, killing a guard and detonating bombs that sparked a fire and forced the facility to shut down, officials said.
The assailants, carrying pistols fitted with silencers, broke into the Beiji refinery around 3:30am, attacked the guards and planted bombs near some production units for benzene and kerosene, said Mohammed al-Asi, spokesman for Salahuddin Province.
One guard was killed and another wounded, al-Asi said.
By midmorning, firefighters were still trying to extinguish the blaze, Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said, adding that an investigation would be launched.
“We hope that work will be resumed in a short period of time,” Jihad said, but did not give a date.
The Beiji refinery has two sections. The attackers targeted the installation’s North Refinery that handles 150,000 barrels a day.
The second section, the Salahuddin Refinery, is under renovation. It used to process 70,000 barrels per day.
Iraq’s overall refining capacity is currently slightly over 500,000 barrels per day. Its three main oil refineries — Dora, Shuaiba and Beiji — process slightly more than half of the 700,000 barrels-per-day capacity they had before the 2003 US invasion.
Iraq sits on the world’s third-largest known oil reserves with an estimated 115 billion barrels, but its production is far below its potential due to decades of war, UN sanctions, lack of foreign investment and insurgent attacks.
At the height of an insurgency from 2004 to late 2007, the refinery in Beiji was under control of Sunni militants who used to siphon off crude and petroleum products to finance their operations.
Beiji is about 1250km north of Baghdad.
In other news, health officials and police said yesterday that two teens, ages 12 and 18, died of injuries sustained in anti-government protests a day earlier, bringing the death toll for the day to 14. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.
On Friday, thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq in an outpouring of anger, the largest and most violent anti-government protests in the country since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world weeks ago.
The protests, billed as a “Day of Rage, were fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services from the Shiite-dominated government.