Iraqi oil well blazes darken Kuwaiti skies

Published on Mar 21, 2003 11:49 PM IST

A dark haze clouded the Kuwaiti capital on Friday after Saddam Hussein's troops set fire to their own oil wells as Iraq launched a missile attack on its southern neighbour for the second day running.

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PTI | ByAgence France-Presse, Kuwait City

A dark haze clouded the Kuwaiti capital on Friday after Saddam Hussein's troops set fire to their own oil wells as Iraq launched a missile attack on its southern neighbour for the second day running.

Kuwaiti defence forces fired Patriot missiles to intercept an incoming Iraqi missile targeted at an air base in the north of the emirate, triggering explosions which could be clearly heard in the capital.

"A total of three Patriots were fired by Kuwaiti Air Defence batteries to intercept and destroy the incoming Iraqi missile" aimed at the Ali al-Salem air base, Colonel Yussif al-Mulla said in a statement.

Warning sirens sounded around 1005 GMT and three explosions were heard shortly afterwards, an AFP correspondent reported.

The latest missile attack, which came after 10 Iraqi missiles crashed into the emirate in the opening 24 hours of the war, added to the sense of unease of Kuwaitis who awoke to dark skies.

"The black cloud seen covering the skies of Kuwait is caused by the burning of oil wells in southern Iraq, set ablaze by Iraqi forces," said the head of the national environmental agency, Mohamed al-Sarawi.

In London, the chief of British armed forces Admiral Sir Michael Boyce said only seven oil wells in southern Iraq had been deliberately torched by Iraqi forces, and not around 30 as previously announced.

"Of course that's only seven of the many hundreds that make up the oil fields," Boyce said, blaming the confusion in part on Iraqi forces lighting trenches full of oil to create smokescreens.

Boyce said "specialist civilian contractors" would be in the area "in a day or two" to snuff out the fires.

A huge tower of bright orange flame and several plumes of smoke were seen burning north of the border with Iraq, an AFP correspondent in the border zone said.

British military spokesman, RAF Group Captain Al Lockwood, told reporters that troops who had captured the Fao peninsula in southern Iraq had "taken the oil pumping equipment that leads into the northern Arabian Gulf and secured it ... so the prospect of pollution into the Gulf available to Saddam Hussein is no longer a problem."

Officials in Kuwait City said there had been no damage to Kuwaiti oil fields from Iraqi attacks.

Oil sector spokesman Sheikh Talal al-Khaled al-Sabah "assured that all petroleum sector operations are being carried out normally throughout the country without being affected or halted by the developments in Iraq," the official KUNA news agency reported.

In the run-up to the war, Saddam insisted that he would not order his forces to burn oil fields, as he did in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War.

The interception of the missile aimed at the Ali al-Salem air base triggered sirens for a ninth time here. All-clear signals were sounded shortly after sirens went off twice in the morning.

The sirens sparked panic in the Kuwaiti capital on Thursday as residents scrambled to don their gas masks. The streets were largely empty Friday, the Muslim day of rest.

Iraq's Information Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf said Friday the missiles fired at Kuwait targeted the "colonizing" US and British troops.

"We attacked the colonizing mercenaries gathered on Kuwaiti territory, who desecrate Arab territory," he told a press conference in Baghdad.

"Our information today indicates that the state of terror among the mercenary American forces in Kuwait was very large."

Despite the missile attacks, lawmakers said that it was highly unlikely that residents in Kuwait were in danger.

"I doubt very much that Iraq has the capabilities to harm the residential areas in the country," said Abdul Wahab al-Harun, chairman of parliament's finance committee.

"Saddam's best forces are cantered around Baghdad ... the distance between Kuwait City and Iraq's capital is too great for any Iraqi missile to create damage here," he told Kuwait's Arab Times.

The Kuwaiti government, meanwhile, announced that it was donating two million US dollars to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to assist Iraqi refugees.

Kuwait's ambassador to the UN, Dharar Abdul Razzak Razzuqi, made the pledge during a meeting with UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers at a meeting in Geneva on Thursday, KUNA said.

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