Institute for War and Peace Reporting

Local Iraqi Officials Outraged Over Baghdad Auctioning Off Their Natural Gas Fields

The Iraqi Oil Ministry's auction of three natural gas fields last week has been angrily opposed by all the provinces in which they are located, with provincial officials threatening legal action against Baghdad and warning that they will refuse to cooperate with the developers.

Keep reading... Show less

I Was An Innocent Prisoner at Guantanamo Bay

As a young man in Iraq, I longed to live in the West. Yet when I finally came within reach of the free world, it was no longer as a free man.

Keep reading... Show less

Half a Million Displaced Iraqis Face Grim Future In Squalid Squatter Camps

The alarming spread of illegal squatter settlements has aid groups fearful of a looming social crisis, one which a senior United Nations official considers "the greatest humanitarian problem facing Iraq."

Keep reading... Show less

Baghdad Bombing Atrocity Threatens Iraqi Elections

The devastating aftermath of this week's double bombing in Baghdad has cast doubt on the government's ability to guarantee security and prompted fears such violence may affect voter turnout in anticipated January elections.

Keep reading... Show less

Will Afghan Election Results Spark Violence?

As Afghanistan prepares for a elections this week, it is faced with the twin specters of an escalating insurgency and the threat of post-ballot political unrest.

Keep reading... Show less

Border Conflicts Testing Kurdish Tightrope Act in Iraq

The Iraqi Kurdish administration is running out of options as it faces growing pressure to end the fighting between its neighbors and Kurdish rebels based inside its borders.

But analysts say a breakthrough in the decades-old conflicts is impossible without closer American engagement.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders have postponed plans for a conference, due to have been held this spring, where many had hoped the rebels would be urged to lay down their arms.

Meanwhile, tension has been mounting in Iraq’s remote, mountainous north, with Turkey and Iran directing air raids and artillery fire across the border at what they say are Kurdish rebel bases.

Analysts say the Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG, must take a more active role in ending the conflicts being played out on its territory.

Henri Barkey, author of a recent report on the region for a Washington-based think-tank the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told IWPR the KRG could seek to persuade the rebels to agree to some form of deal “and ensure that a demilitarization is done honorably”.

Fuad Husayn, the chief of staff for the Kurdistan region’s president, Massoud Barzani, said the KRG wanted “good relations with its neighbors” and rejected the activities of “any force which uses the region’s soil” to attack them.

He told IWPR the KRG believed dialogue was the only way to secure peace. “Such issues cannot be solved through military actions from any side,” he said. However, he said, the KRG had not held any discussions with the rebel Kurdish Workers’ Party, PKK, on ending the fighting.

Unlike the KRG, the United States endorses military action as part of a broader solution to the conflict. A U.S. embassy official in Ankara told IWPR Washington’s strategy to end the fighting included supporting Turkey “with intelligence sharing and other operations.”

The U.S. stepped up its engagement in the region in 2007 by classifying the PKK as a terrorist organization – a move which effectively bars the group from any potential U.S.-backed peace talks.

“The PKK has conducted more than enough violent acts to justify being labeled a terrorist organization,” said the U.S. official, when asked whether the move to proscribe the group may have weakened prospects for an eventual settlement by affirming Turkey’s military strategy.

The U.S. official stressed that military operations alone would not solve the conflict. She said leaders in the region were working towards “a comprehensive solution that includes other aspects of the Kurdish issue,” such as economic and social development.

But Barkey says the U.S. “has not been as energetic as it could have been” in pursuing a resolution of the conflict.

As a partner to Turkey within the NATO alliance and a vocal supporter of its bid to join the EU, Washington has great influence over Ankara’s political leadership and its powerful military.

The U.S. also holds sway with the KRG, which is looking to Washington to safeguard Iraq’s federal system amid fears that Baghdad is trying to curb the Kurds’ extensive autonomy.

Recent events suggest the Iraqi Kurdish leadership cannot revive the peace process without American help, say analysts.

Turkish air force jets this month bombed what they said were bases used by the PKK in northern Iraq, reportedly killing ten rebel fighters.

Iran too stepped up its attacks on the PKK’s smaller offshoot, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, PJAK, by firing artillery shells and sending attack helicopters across the border into Iraq.

The attacks on the ground were accompanied by diplomatic pressure on the KRG to crack down on the rebels.

PKK and PJAK are accused of using terrorist tactics to achieve a separate Kurdish state. Both groups deny this, insisting they only want greater autonomy for Kurdish minorities living in Turkey and Iran.

They also accuse Iraqi Kurdish leaders of betrayal. Rozh Wlat, a spokesman for the PKK, said the KRG and Baghdad supported Iran and Turkey’s bombardment along its borders. “They are also responsible for this conflict because they have signed agreements ... to stand against us,” he said.

Sympathy for the PKK is widespread among nationalistic Iraqi Kurds, who see the rebels as champions of their oppressed kin abroad. Many also believe the KRG should take firmer action against the border attacks, which they regard as an encroachment on their sovereignty.

Shabaz Jamal, of the People’s Development Association, an Iraqi Kurdish NGO, says the Kurdish street is divided between those who support the PKK and those who question why the rebels are “giving our neighbours a legitimate excuse to shell our borders”.

Husayn says the KRG had raised the issue of the border attacks with its neighbors – but its options for action were limited. “How can you defend against a shell coming from the other side of the border?” he said. “Talks are the only solution.”

Answering those who have accused the KRG of failing to criticise the attacks loudly enough, he told IWPR the issue “cannot be solved through condemnation.”

The president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, has voiced concern for civilians affected by the latest violence, while the Iraqi foreign ministry formally complained to Iran over its attacks earlier this month.

However, the KRG has kept its forces out of the conflicts, claiming it does not have the means or the grounds to retaliate.

“The KRG can’t attack or oust PJAK and PKK because [Iran and Turkey’s] problem is not with the KRG,” said Jabbar Yawar, a top official in charge of Kurdish forces.

Yawar said Kurdish troops can defend the borders “if there are any ground assaults, but not against bombardments and aerial strikes.”

The KRG has long ruled out military action against the rebels, as demanded by Turkey and Iran. It has also avoided retaliating against its neighbors, as demanded by the Kurdish street.

Treading a tightrope between domestic opinion and foreign policy, the region’s leaders have invested their efforts in pushing the rebels to the negotiating table.

In March, Iraq’s president and the leader of one of its two major Kurdish parties, Jalal Talabani, announced plans for an international peace conference drawing together the region’s Kurdish political groups.

The conference could have seen the triumphant climax of the KRG’s careful diplomacy if, as many had hoped, it yielded a declaration demanding the PKK and PJAK disarm.

But the meeting, due to have been hosted in Iraqi Kurdistan, was postponed. The reasons behind the cancellation are unclear. However, the delay has highlighted the problems the KRG faces as it seeks to promote peace beyond its borders.

Mahmoud Othman, an independent Iraqi Kurdish member of parliament, said the conference was still in the works – and the PKK’s disarmament had never been on its agenda.

“Disarmament of the PKK has never been officially discussed,” he said. “The conference will outline a strategy for peace put forward by all the Kurds.”

He stressed that the Kurds “cannot achieve peace unilaterally” and called on Ankara to review its policy on the PKK and work towards a middle ground. He also said the US needed to take a leading role in the process, having so far only “echoed Ankara’s rhetoric”.

Fareed Assarad, head of the Sulaimaniyah-based Kurdistan Center for Strategic Studies, said the conference would have run into difficulties if it had tried to persuade the PKK to give up the gun, “The PKK is not ready and has not volunteered to disarm.”

Assarad said the conference would also have found it difficult to unite diverse Kurdish issues.

“The issues are unique to each country. In Turkey, the problem is about Kurdish identity, while in Iran there are no issues over identity – but there is a rejection of the Kurdish political cause,” he said.

Barkey argues that the U.S. should aim to unite the KRG and Ankara in a body that jointly oversees the eventual disarmament of the PKK.

“Left to their own devices, none of the parties has shown much ability to move forward. ... The United States can approach matters with a broader outlook and vision,” his report concluded.

He told IWPR the detente between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds could be consolidated through “a series of sequential, simultaneous steps”.

These included some form of amnesty for PKK fighters; the demilitarisation of the PKK; greater Turkish support for the KRG; and agreement over the future of the Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk, contested by Kurds and Arabs.

Barkey warned that hardliners on both sides stand to gain most by prolonging the fighting. “People are making money from the conflict,” he said.

Some 80,000 Kurdish “Village Guards” have been enlisted by Turkey as an informal militia against PKK. The PKK’s ranks include some who profit from the war and have no vision of themselves in a peaceful society.

Elements in the Turkish military could seek to aggravate the conflict in order to undermine the Ankara government. According to Barkey, a settlement would also have to overcome “arch-nationalists in Turkey who think of the Kurds still as some inferior race.”

The U.S. embassy official in Ankara told IWPR that the American policy of urging dialogue between Turkey, Iraq and the Iraqi Kurds was beginning to bear fruit.

“Yes, this is an incredibly complex problem. We have been encouraging dialogue between Turks and Iraqis for some time,” said the official. “We do believe that we’re starting to see results in the last few months.”

While the talks continue, the mountain villagers of northern Iraq pay a high price for living on a frontline.

Ali Hamad, 30, fled his home in Razga village, near the Iranian border, when fighting flared between Iran and PJAK earlier this year. He returned in February with his wife and one-year-old son after a tentative ceasefire deal.

“We had the government’s word that Iran would not shell again,” said Hamad. “But one night we were awoken by artillery fire. My son was killed and my wife and I were wounded.”

Crackdown on Afghan Media as Elections Near

The closure of an Afghan daily -- after its editor was briefly jailed for alleged blasphemy -- is part of an ongoing campaign to subdue the media in the run-up to presidential elections in August, observers say.

Payman Daily announced it was closing down on February 8, following mounting pressure on staff, which appears to have been triggered by the January 11 publication of an article that the Ulema, or Council of Religious Clerics, deemed blasphemous.

In a statement, the newspaper blamed "forces who are against democracy and freedom of speech," among whom, it suggested, was President Hamed Karzai. The president, it said, was "overwhelmed by the critical mood of the paper and the kind of independent information it reflects."

The allegedly blasphemous story -- downloaded from an Afghan website,, carried the predictions of an old Bulgarian woman, Baba Wanga, which cast doubt on all prophesies, including those of Jesus Christ and the Prophet Mohammad.

This, apparently, was what angered the mullahs, who issued a Fatwa against the paper, calling those behind the publication "apostates" and demanding harsh punishment of its staff. In Afghanistan "harsh punishment" is commonly understood to mean death.

Payman, for its part, claimed that the article was printed in error, and apologized repeatedly in subsequent issues of the paper.

This did not appease the Ulema, who also threatened the Afghan government, saying that failure to punish the alleged perpetrators could lead to a nationwide uprising.

On January 15, the government duly interrogated seven members of Payman's staff, releasing six of them after several hours. But the news editor, Nazari Paryani, remained in custody until January 20. His reprieve is only temporary, however. Officials in the judiciary say that the case against Paryani and the paper is still open.

"Our society cannot tolerate anti-Islamic propaganda," said Attorney General Eshaq Aloko. "This will have negative consequences in the future."

Following his release, Paryani spoke with the media, calling his detention "against all laws, as well as national and international principles."

He complained about the arrest and the conditions under which he was held.

"An official of the attorney general's office … entered our office with police and arrested me and six of my colleagues," he told reporters. "They said they came on orders of the president and the attorney general."

Paryani said he was held with common criminals, and interrogated twice during his time in jail.

"It was very humiliating for me, a journalist," he said.

Paryani's ordeal is the latest in a line of cases in which religion has been used as a tool with which to strike at journalists.

Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh has been in prison since October, 2007, on vague charges of "insulting Islam." His alleged crime also involves downloading an article from the internet and distributing it to his classmates at Balkh University. The offending material concerns women's rights under Islam; Kambakhsh denies the charge.

He was initially condemned to death; the appeals court commuted his sentence to 20 years in prison. His case is still pending before the supreme court.

Ghaws Zalmai, a prominent Afghan journalist, has been behind bars since November 2007. He has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, for publishing a vernacular version of the Koran which the Ulema found to be inaccurate. His appeal has been repeatedly delayed, most recently on February 8.

All three cases have been manufactured and prosecuted in violation of the laws of Afghanistan, say media experts.

"Nobody has the right to arrest a journalist directly," said Rahimullah Samander, head of the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association, referring to latest affair. "The [Payman] case should have been referred to the media violations commission. This shows that the law was not considered."

According to the Afghan media law approved in 2006, "the … commission shall investigate the violations of the provisions of this law. If the case requires legal prosecution, it shall be referred to the judiciary organs."

The information ministry issued a statement saying that the commission had examined the case and found it to be beyond their authority. But Payman's editors asserted that they had never been contacted by the commission, and that the attorney general's office has intervened on its own initiative.

"The commission has not assessed the case," said Mehsa Tayee, an editor at Payman and one of the seven originally detained.

"The attorney general's office came to us directly," she said. "They entered our office and arrested us as if we were a group of terrorists. They are still threatening us every day to keep silent."

Afghanistan's penal code has no clear law against blasphemy or insulting Islam and certainly has no provisions for the death penalty in such cases.

Instead, articles relating to "religious crimes" mandate a fine of 12,000 to 60,000 afghani (240 to 1200 U.S. dollars) and a maximum sentence of five years.

Under pressure from the Ulema, say legal experts, Afghanistan's courts are prosecuting these cases under the catch-all article 130 of the constitution.

"If there is no provision in the constitution or other laws about a case, the courts shall, in pursuance of Hanafi jurisprudence, and, within the limits set by this constitution, rule in a way that attains justice in the best manner," it states.

Hanafi refers to the oldest of the four schools of jurisprudence within Sunni Islam.

According to human rights organizations, this article has given judges the right to convert punishment from a legal slap on the wrist to a death sentence.

"This pressure by the Ulema and their call for capital punishment has a direct impact on the courts," said Samander. "This was clear in the cases of Parwez Kambakhsh and Ghaws Zalmai … This is illegal and poses great threat to freedom of speech."

The threat of severe punishment, he went on, can always be used to keep unruly journalists in line, "Media violations are more and more being converted to blasphemy cases. The condition of the media is deteriorating day by day, and the number of journalists arrested is increasing."

Media observers are more and more convinced that such cases are an attempt to use religion to put pressure on journalists in advance of the presidential election campaign.

The poll is scheduled for August 20, and storm clouds are already gathering.

"Officials in Kabul have no backing among the citizens of Afghanistan, and they have recently been isolated by the international community as well," said Fazel Rahman Orya, a political commentator for Shamshad Television in Kabul. "Therefore they are trying to show how religious they are, to attract people's support."

Pressure, he added, was likely to increase, "This has created fear in Afghanistan's media."

At Payman, staff members trace the treatment they have received to the paper's negative assessment of Karzai and his government.

"The newspaper is widely read, and we were criticizing Karzai," said Tayee. "So the president wanted to suppress the newspaper ahead of the presidential elections."

The office of the president declined to comment on this story.

Journalists complain that the authorities are hampering their work and call on them to stop.

"The government has no right to suppress journalists, who are just practicing the ABCs of democracy," said Sayed Alim Mushfeq, editor of the Nawa-e-Kohsar paper in Jowzjan province. "They are using the cleaver of religion, ethnicity, and regionalism to accomplish this."

He added that he himself was now looking over his shoulder.

"Trust me I am very frightened since this recent case," he said. "Now I realize that the smallest mistake can lead to prison or even death."

The journalists who reported this story have requested that their names be withheld for security reasons.

New Wave of Violence Against Iraqi Journalists

Iraqi journalists have faced a fresh bout of violence in recent weeks, which is seen by some observers as a renewed attempt to undermine free media in the country.

Since last month, at least five media workers have been killed and several others injured.

Earlier this week, Dyar Abas Ahmed, a Kurdish journalist, was gunned down in the northern city of Kirkuk, according to the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ.

On September 13, three journalists and their driver were killed while filming a show in Mosul.

Senior correspondent with al-Sharqiya TV Musab Mahmood al-Ezawi and cameramen Ahmed Salim and Ihab Mu'd and their driver Qaydar Sulaiman were reportedly kidnapped while their fellow crew members were inside a house filming.

Their bodies were later found in the al-Borsa district, close to the site from where they were taken.

On September 20, the head of the Iraq journalists' union Muaid Al-Lami was injured, along with four other journalists, in an explosion at the union's headquarters in Baghdad. According to reports, the bomb exploded at the entrance to the building in the al-Waziriya neighborhood, in the north of the capital.

Following the attack, the Iraqi Committee to Protect Journalists, ICPJ, demanded the authorities provide better safeguards for members of the journalists' union. Its members, it said, were being targeted by extremists trying to silence the voices of the free press and media.

Head of the Iraqi Association for Journalists' Rights Ibrahim Al-Sarai, meanwhile, asked the government to lay on security for the head and council members of the union, who he said were the targets of unknown political or extremist groups.

This is not the first time the union has been attacked.

In February this year, its chair, Shihab al-Tamimi, died after being shot in Baghdad. Head of the union since 2003, Tamimi had been a critic of the US invasion of Iraq and of the continued occupation of the country by American forces.

Since 2003, such assassinations and kidnappings in Iraq have been rife.

The country is regarded as the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. According to CPJ, 135 journalists have been killed in Iraq since 2003.

While media workers seem to have been a particular target, the Iraqi government refused to acknowledge this, saying that their deaths were a result of the general wave of violence that engulfed the country.

Journalists' union member Husein Fawzi, who writes for several local papers, said that before the recent attacks on journalists, the security situation in Iraq had greatly improved.

"[Until recently] conditions for journalists and media workers were relatively good, but now we are seriously thinking of quitting our work," said Fawzi.

Rawhi Ahmed, who works as program manager at Radio al-Mahabba, an Iraqi station devoted to women's issues, blamed terrorists and armed groups for the targeting of journalists.

He said that responsibility ultimately lay with the government and security forces for failing to prevent the attacks, and hold the perpetrators accountable.

"If the government investigated the killing of journalists and punished those responsible, things would completely change and the journalists would be safe," he said.

He asserted that politicians do not seem concerned about the safety of media workers, noting that a law to protect journalists is stalled in parliament.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has condemned the killing of journalists but whose government has been criticized for not doing enough to protect them, sent the draft law to parliament. Little is known about the law, which was reportedly presented to the parliament's culture and media committee over the summer, but has not been made public.

"The bill the government presented to parliament guarantees the protection of journalists and considers them an important part of Iraqi society," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told IWPR.

Ziad al-Ajili, who heads the Iraqi media rights group Journalistic Freedom Observatory, JFO, said the legislation would require the government to support the families of journalists who had been killed and would pay for the medical treatment of those who are injured.

Journalists' union member and news editor at Al-Yom Radio Eman al-Khattab said the draft law should have been introduced earlier. She maintained that Tamimi's killing and the recent targeting of the journalist's union were politically-motivated and called for an independent investigation into the recent spike in violence against journalists.

In response to the attacks, the JFO said it has launched a project with the interior ministry to protect journalists by supplying them with maps and giving them escorts when reporting on certain events. The interior ministry will also provide journalists with helmets, flack jackets and first-aid kits.

Ajili said the initiative is part of a larger project being carried out in cooperation with non-governmental organisation Iraqi Independent Media to provide better protection and security.

Interior ministry public relations and media office manager Alaa al-Taaee said the ministry was ready to provide everything necessary to support the work of journalists.

"We have a clear vision from the very beginning, and we want to develop it in a project with any organization caring about journalistic affairs. The project is unprecedented at regional and international level," he said.

In a separate initiative, IWPR is soon to launch a safety course for journalists in Iraq, called Safety and Security and Legal Protection. The course will introduce the western model of hostile environment training to journalists in the country. It will also provide training on media law.

Tribes Who Once Protected Kirkuk Pipelines Now Sabotage Them

Masked men infiltrate the village of al-Milih, 75 kilometres west of Kirkuk, and approach an oil pipeline that passes nearby. Under cover of darkness, they steal oil from an opening they drilled into the pipeline weeks earlier.

Over a period of weeks, this scene is repeated nightly.

Despite the presence of special oil ministry units, pipelines around Kirkuk are destroyed and hundreds of tonnes of oil stolen every day by tribe members from surrounding villages, such as al-Milih, Wadi Zghetun, al-Muradiyya, al-Saduniyya, al-Kanaina and al-Safra.

The "oil protection units" were deployed to guard the pipelines after the government cancelled previous failed agreements with tribal forces to protect them. But in spite of this, oil is stolen from pipelines stretching from the al-Riyadh sub-district, 55 km west of Kirkuk, to the al-Fatha area 90 km to the west.

Tribal sheikhs who profit from the stolen oil are likely to obstruct new measures planned by local authorities, including a special protection force, to stop the sabotage of the pipelines. Locals employed to protect the pipes are often from the same groups as those who are stealing the oil.

Ever since a British-controlled company discovered oil in Kirkuk in 1927, the fate of the city has been tied to black gold.

A thirst for oil drove Saddam's Baath party to assert control over Kirkuk, driving out thousands of Kurds and replacing them with Arabs. Before the fall of the old regime, the fields around Kirkuk produced nearly 850,000 barrels per day, more than 30 per cent of Iraq's total production at the time.

In the first few years after the fall of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's government, Sunni insurgents - many of whom as former soldiers had guarded oil routes under the old regime - blew up the pipelines to wreak havoc.

Since then, insurgents have realised that stealing oil is also damaging, and is far more profitable than pure destruction.

Today, Kirkuk's oil wealth is evaporating.

Qais al-Mifraji, a 34-year-old farmer in the village of al-Safra, 63 km west of Kirkuk, describes how the pipelines are destroyed.

"The insurgents usually come at night and plant a bomb to detonate the export pipeline," he said. "But if they want to steal, they just break it and fill their tankers. No one can stop them."

The riddled pipes partially explain why four years after the US invasion, Iraq has not been able to match its pre-war crude production level of 2.5 million barrels a day. In 2006, production averaged 2.1 million barrels per day, mostly from oil fields near Basra in the south, which have not suffered the non-stop sabotage taking place in the north.

Kirkuk now produces just 180,000 barrels a day. It could produce at least 400,000 more a day which, at current market prices, would net Iraq seven billion US dollars in revenue per year.

Over the second half of last year, one stretch of pipeline connecting Kirkuk with the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan - the main outlet for Iraq's northern oil exports - pumped oil for only 43 days. The rest of the time, the pipeline lay idle, leaking crude through dozens of holes drilled along its 320-km run through the Iraqi desert.

Another pipeline has been tapped into 39 times so far this year, according to the state-owned Northern Oil Company, NOC, which operates the Kirkuk field.

Qadir Omer Rahman, director of the oil products distribution department in Kirkuk, said that the 80km-long pipeline from Kirkuk to the refinery in Bayji suffered many attacks.

"Those who protect and guard the oil pipelines are recruited from the people of the villages through which the pipelines pass," he said. "They are the ones committing these acts of terror and smuggling, with the help of other groups."

Unemployment and poor living conditions spurred Ayad Hamid al-Ubaidi from Hawdh village, who is in his thirties, to join the gangs who target pipelines and steal oil.

"There is no one who can give us our rights," he said. "We have to use our own hands to obtain our rights."

Rahman estimated that three million litres of oil are lost every month because of sabotage, which he said severely affects the provision of petroleum products to Kirkuk and the Kurdistan region's three northern governorates.

Each stage of oil production in the north is hampered by criminal activity.

It is not only the oil and its products which are stolen by outsiders. Pumps, transformers, generators and other valuable machinery and spare parts are frequently looted.

Oil company workers are coming increasingly under fire from militias. Pipeline repair crews have been shot at and hit by roadside bombs. Sunni insurgents have been dropping leaflets in Kirkuk warning all government employees, including oil company workers, to quit or to face death.

Last summer, Adi al-Qazaz, then NOC's director-general, went to Baghdad to visit the oil ministry. After his meeting, he was kidnapped by gunmen on the street, never to be seen again.

While some NOC employees are threatened, others are suspected of cooperating in stealing both crude and refined oil. Truck drivers, as well as managers of fuel stations, are taking their share of the illegal business, draining supplies for Iraqi citizens who struggle to find cooking oil and fuel.

A source in the NOC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that there is a mafia-like group operating inside the company which smuggles large amounts of oil through pipelines, in cooperation with individuals inside the company.

"When an explosion occurs in a pipeline and oil leaks from it, the people in charge neglect it, leaving the leak for several days until a large amount of oil has been taken from it," he said.

Much of the smuggled crude oil is sold to merchants in Erbil through local brokers. They meet to do their deals in a restaurant in the sub-district of al-Gwer, 40 km west of Erbil, according to Ahmed al-Jobouri, an oil tanker driver.

At small domestic refineries, the crude is transformed into refined fuel and then sold on the black market. Some will then be smuggled across the border.

According to the NOC source, "the revenue from oil smuggled into Turkey is used to support the Turkoman Front in Iraq, and revenue from oil smuggled to Syria is used to support the insurgent groups in Iraq".

Fuel is heavily subsidised in Iraq. Petrol stations receive limited supplies and citizens are given vouchers entitling them to buy a certain amount each week at the official low price. But because there is not enough subsidised fuel, most Iraqis end up buying oil products on the black market.

A source in the Bayji refinery near Kirkuk, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told IWPR reporters that some officials from the General Company for Oil Products, which is in charge of issuing paperwork for the subsidies, sells authentic as well as false receipts to merchants.

The stolen fuel is then smuggled and sold on the black market, either inside Iraq or across the border in Syria or Turkey.

There is also small-scale smuggling. Salah Ali, who has been working as a tanker driver for six months, said receipts are issued at the Bayji refinery for 36,000 litres per tanker, which is their official load. But they are then filled to their full capacity of 40,000 litres, and the additional 4,000 litres are sold on the black market for five times the price of regular fuel.

Similar activities go on at the smaller refinery in Kirkuk, said Irfan Kirkukli, the deputy chief of security on the city council.

"Several trucks carrying oil products smuggled from Kirkuk have been seized," he said. "Vehicles have been caught smuggling 160 canisters of cooking gas from Kirkuk to Erbil, for example."

Some petrol station owners, he said, sell their share of state-subsidised fuel to black market dealers.

"Many such cases have occurred in Kirkuk and legal action was taken against [the culprits]," he said. "The filling stations weren't given [further] allotments and their owners were fined."

To protect the pipelines and prevent illegal smuggling of fuel, several measures are to be implemented. Kirkukli said a special protection force to guard the pipelines will be formed, consisting of members of the Iraqi army, oil protection forces and the tribes from the areas where the pipelines pass through.

Officials in charge of particular pipeline sectors will have to pay fines if their stretches are damaged or oil is stolen. Kirkukli also said that funds have been allocated to support oil infrastructure and to build observation towers along the pipelines in western and southern Kirkuk.

Sami Amin Othman, the Kurdish chief of the oil protection force in Kirkuk, has recently hired 290 new security guards whom he plans to deploy along the pipelines.

This, however, has already created unrest among the local Sunni Arab chiefs in the area. They seem to be afraid of losing power because the new guards will be paid directly by the government and not contracted through them.

Because the people hired to protect the pipelines are often from the same groups that sabotage the pipes, and tribal bonds are often stronger than national loyalty, the illegal drilling is expected to continue.

Sheikh Ziyad Hasan, who formerly served as a contractor protecting the pipelines, confirms that people from the area sabotage the pipelines and profit from the oil. Many locals, he said, lack the motivation to prevent thefts.

"They believe that this oil serves the Americans and the new government, and that it does not benefit the people," he said.