KUWAIT CITY March 24 —
Fighting around the southern Iraq oil fields that U.S.-led forces
had previously thought were secure has driven out civilian
firefighters trying to put out the oil well blazes, the top
firefighter said Monday.
"It's not nearly as safe as they said it was," said Brian Krause,
vice president and senior blowout specialist for Houston-based Boots
and Coots. "We're kind of sitting ducks out there."
The Iraqi resistance in the oil fields challenges U.S. claims
that southern Iraq is quickly falling under allied control.
U.S. Marines declared the southern Rumailah oil fields in Iraq
unsafe for journalists to visit Monday, forcing the cancellation of
a trip under Marine escort intended to give the media a firsthand
view of the blazing wells.
U.S. Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said Iraqis set demolitions on
some well heads and detonated them, but only seven fires were
burning in a field with 500 well heads. Speaking at the U.S. Central
Command's gulf post in Qatar, Brooks said that was "a very important
story for the future of Iraq."
Krause said he was told that Iraqi fighters dressed as civilians
had clashed with British forces near the oil fields Sunday night,
forcing the evacuation of his firefighting team.
"Yesterday, we captured five POWs that just drove up, waving a
white flag. They just surrendered to us," Krause said.
"A little while later, five more POWs drove up to some British
soldiers waving a white flag, and when they got close they opened up
with machine guns."
Lynn Wray, a spokeswoman for the British military, said she could
not confirm the fighting or location, but said two British soldiers
were missing in southern Iraq.
U.S. military officials said armed Iraqis in civilian clothes,
some of them possibly using women and children as screens, were
operating in the southern Rumailah area.
Krause was meeting with U.S. military officials Monday in Kuwait
to discuss tighter security arrangements so his men can pursue the
dangerous work of putting out the fires.
Securing the Rumailah oil fields was one of the top priorities of
commanders of the invasion into Iraq; military planners want to use
Iraq's oil output to finance the rebuilding of the country.
British forces initially secured the area with nearly all the key
Krause said putting out the fires appears to be a straightforward
job, easier than extinguishing the 700 well fires set by Iraqi
forces fleeing Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.
"I don't see them as too difficult," Krause said. "The biggest
challenge now is getting in enough water and security."
A team of 25 Kuwaiti firefighters operating independently across
the border extinguished one of seven wells known to be burning
Monday, said Sheik Talal Al Sabah, spokesman for Kuwait's oil
"Al-Rumailah is a large field," Al Sabah said. "In the area where
the Kuwaiti team is working, it is safe."
The Americans and Kuwaitis plan to meet Tuesday to coordinate
their efforts and get water and fire teams to wells burning deeper
inside Iraq. The farthest one is about 12 miles from the Kuwaiti
"They've got water. We need water," Krause said.
Krause said he heard that Iraqis blew up pipelines 20 miles
inside the country during the past day. U.S. military officials
could not immediately confirm the report.
Krause worked for the legendary oil firefighter Red Adair and was
involved in the seven-month effort to douse Kuwait's fires in
Company experts surveyed the region by air Saturday and said the
biggest difficulty would be getting enough water to put out the
fires in the desert. In 1991, fires at many of Kuwait's wells were
doused by pumping water from the Persian Gulf.
|A U.S. soldier from the 1st
Marine Expeditionary Force stands guard at a burning oil well
at the Rumeila Oil fields March 23, 2003 in Iraq. Several oil
wells have been set ablaze by retreating Iraqi troops in the
Rumeila area, the second largest offshore oil field in the
country, near the Kuwaiti border. (AP Photo/Ian
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