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Convoys Move Iraqi Oil Over Border
By Seth Robson
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 12, 2004,

MOSUL, Iraq The coalition is relying on massive truck convoys in northern Iraq to move crude and refined oil back and forth across the Turkish border.

The coalition's goal is to pump 2.8 million and 3 million barrels of crude a day from northern Iraqi oil fields, said Maj. Chuck Svelan of the Mosul-based Task Force Olympia, which is overseeing the oil transport.

The coalition relies on the convoys because constant attacks to the oil pipelines south of the Turkish border make that option unreliable, Svelan said.

"A pipeline is a fixed flow, and if it is cut the flow stops," he said. "Take out a truck and the flow keeps going."

One of the biggest problems task force soldiers faced was "it is next to impossible to guard" miles and miles of pipeline, Svelan said. "So the task force is using convoys."

Eventually, people will realize pipelines are the best method for moving oil, he said, but right now there are fringe elements trying to disrupt the new Iraqi government.

That doesn't mean the trucks offer the perfect solution. There have been attacks on fuel tankers, but the details are classified, Svelan said.

"It is when they go do their own thing that they are vulnerable. The trucks that tend to get attacked are the ones that leave their escorts for whatever reason ... because they want to engage in black market activities," he said.

Despite the occasional attack, trucks and drivers are fairly safe, Svelan said, because the attackers don't want to blow up the trucks, they want to steal the fuel.

On an average day, up to 1,000 trucks each tanker carries between 5,000 and 9,000 gallons of fuel cross the Turkish border and head south to Mosul. The massive convoys are escorted by members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

The convoys rendezvous just north of Mosul at the Foxtrot depot, which is manned by soldiers from the Fort Lewis, Wash.-based 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment.

Earlier this week, 1st Lt. Michael Bayler of the 1-37th stood in a cloud of dust, hopping from side to side to avoid being crushed under an 18-wheeler.

Tankers of every size, shape and condition had reached the depot earlier that morning. Now, they sat in long lines waiting to be dispatched to subdepots around northern Iraq, and eventually to filling stations.

Some soldiers from Bayler's unit monitored the Iraqi dispatchers, while others stood guard on a nearby rooftop scanning the fields for anti-coalition forces. So far, the insurgents have avoided the depot.

Bayler held a clipboard containing a list of each truck's destination. Soldiers confirmed the numbers and made sure dispatchers do not take bribes to send trucks to nearby depots.

"We are here as oversight," Bayler said. "When there wasn't anyone in power, people were taking bribes, and a lot of guys were selling black market fuel."

The soldiers now check seals on the tankers to make sure the drivers are not siphoning off some of the fuel en route.

"Fuel that goes for $4 a gallon in Turkey sells for 4 cents a liter here," Bayler said. Iraqi gas stations sell fuel at about 1.5 cents a liter for regular unleaded and about 4 cents a liter for super unleaded.

On the black market, roadside vendors sell super unleaded at about 10 cents a liter.

Maj. Karl Petkovich, also with Task Force Olympia, works with Restore Iraqi Oil, an organization formed with the long-term goal of increasing Iraqi crude oil production to between 2.8 million and 3 million barrels a day. Exact data on the agency's progress is classified, but production is well ahead of January's target of 2 million barrels a day, Petkovich said.

"Oil is their one source of income," he said. "The amount of oil in country and the leadership of key personnel means it is only a matter of time before they are up and running."

Until the pipelines are safe, the increased production means more tankers heading north to Turkey. And increased demand in Iraq means more trucks coming back the other way, Petkovich said.

As part of that high demand, there are often daylong lines at some Iraqi gas stations.

"RIO has purchased 800 pumps to go into gas stations throughout Iraq," Petkovich said. "Traffic has increased exponentially in the Mosul region and they are bringing more cars, into the region from outside."

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars & Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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