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Oil fires ignite debate on Iraq disaster

March 2003

Concern arises over the possible firing of Iraq’s oil wells to thwart conflict

Oil fires ignite debate on Iraq disaster

As OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) meets in Vienna to debate rising oil prices in the looming shadow of a potential war in Iraq, a further concern regarding oil resources has emerged.

Although OPEC is confident that war will not to lead to a shortage of oil (mainly because the winter rush for heating oil, particularly in the US, has passed) some US officials, according to Reuters, are suggesting that Iraq is planning to set fire to the oil fields to hinder military action by US and British-led forces.

In 1991, during the last Gulf War, Saddam Husseins regime set alight more then 700 of Kuwaits oil wells. Environmentalists say that these fires caused an environmental disaster that devastated the regions deserts, mangrove swamps and fisheries. Even now, fishermen say their catches can be off as much as 80 percent during some seasons and some migratory bird populations have not recovered, according to environmentalists. The oil that did not burn in the fires travelled on the wind in tiny droplets resulting in an oil mist that poisoned trees and grazing sheep, contaminated freshwater supplies (particularly the many desalination plants supplying many countries in the region) and accumulated in the lungs of people and animals throughout the Gulf.

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