Middle East Correspondent
NICOSIA, Aug 18 -- US efforts to restore Iraq's oil exports suffered a serious setback Sunday when saboteurs blew up a section of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline for the second time in as many days.
The pipeline was first put out of action Friday when saboteurs destroyed a section at Shirqaat, just 2 days after oil exports to Turkey resumed for the first time since the US-led war began on Mar. 21.
Prior to the war's outbreak, the pipeline transported 700,000 b/d of oil from Iraq's northern oil fields at Kirkuk to the export terminal at the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
Officials said Saturday the blaze had been extinguished, but later said it had only had been "contained." Fire continued to engulf the section of the 600 mile pipeline Sunday after reports of a second explosion near Baiji, north of Tikrit.
The US governor of Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, said closure of the pipeline would cost the country $7 million/day in revenue badly needed for postwar reconstruction.
"The irony is that Iraq is a rich country that is temporarily poor," Bremer told the opening meeting of a committee set up to coordinate foreign aid for Iraq. "An event such as the explosion on the Kirkuk pipeline. . .hurts the process of reconstruction."
"The different reports we have seen have been anywhere from 10 days to 2 weeks, but they still have a lot to find out about what needs to be done," an Army spokesman told a news conference when asked how long it would take to fix the line.
Saboteurs being pursued
Meanwhile, Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim, the country's new police commander, vowed to pursue what he described as a group of conspirators who received money from "a particular party" to blow up the oil pipeline. He did not name either of the groups.
Coalition forces have typically named die-hard forces loyal to the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as responsible for terrorists acts in the country following the end of major hostilities in May. Iran also has been accused of supporting terrorist attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.
The US-appointed acting oil minister, Thamer al-Ghadaban, blamed the blasts on sabotage, and underscored the country's lack of security since the end of the war.
"In the past regime we had the oil police, the army and the cooperation of the tribes, as well as what we call internal security," he said. "Now all this has disappeared. There is a void in security."
A spokesman for the coalition provisional authority said Monday that a South African company, Erinys, had been contracted to hire 6,500 Iraqis to guard key installations, including oil wellheads, pipelines, and refineries, as well as electricity and water facilities.
The company is now in the advance planning stage looking at the security around pipelines and will start work at the end of October, a Coalition Provisional Authority spokeswoman said.
The Baghdad office of Erinys could not be reached for comment Monday, but the Erinys web site said that "Effective May 2, Erinys has an established in-country capability, under expatriate (UK) management, to provide security services within Iraq."
In addition to security audits and assessments, security planning, and executive protection, Erinys said it is currently the sole providers of "guarding and protective services, secure warehousing, security escorts, visit logistics, and protective escorts, as well as transportation and logistics for land access from neighboring countries."
Erinys said its security division is directed by former senior members of the UK armed forces, adding that they have "extensive private sector experience providing specialist security advice and services to clients that include the UN, US, and UK governments, the international petrochemical industry, commerce and the private sector."