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
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
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
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
"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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