BAGHDAD — Oil exports from northern Iraq have been halted by a sabotage attack on the pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said on Sunday.
"A 55 kilometre (34 mile) section of the pipeline was damaged in the attack, causing a large oil spillage. Exports have stopped and technicians from the northern oil company (NOC) have gone to the site to survey the damage," Jihad told AFP.
The attack took place around 325 km (200 miles) north of Baghdad.
"We are asking the multinational forces to carry out more patrols to protect the pipeline, which was sabotaged for the fourth time in six weeks. We will not know when exports will resume until we have surveyed the damage," the spokesman added.
The pipeline usually transports between 420,000 and 450,000 barrels per day of oil, although it has the potential to ship 600,000 bpd, according to Jihad.
Total Iraq exports stand at around two million bpd of crude oil, and all its exports from the north flow through the pipeline to Ceyhan.
Improved security along the pipeline has limited the number of attacks in recent years. But after an 18 month period of calm, sabotage resumed on October 26.
A week ago, contracts for the exploitation of seven oil fields were awarded to international consortiums in Iraq's second auction since the US-led invasion in 2003, bringing to 10 the total number of contracts that have now been awarded.
The oil ministry said that together these should allow Iraqi oil production to rise to 12 million bpd, from 2.5 million bpd now, a level that would rival the world largest oil producer Saudi Arabia.
But security and dilapidated infrastructure remain key obstacles to Baghdad achieving that target.
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