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$1bn bill to fix oil field says UK

A burning oil field in southern Iraq.
A burning oil field in southern Iraq.

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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AS SAYLIYA CAMP, Qatar (CNN) -- Iraq's Rumaila oil field could begin exporting oil in three months after about $1 billion of repairs, the commander of UK forces in the Gulf said on Thursday.

Three fires in the South Rumaila field in the south of Iraq have been extinguished by British teams, leaving six wellhead fires still burning, Air Marshal Brian Burridge told a news conference in Qatar.

"The south Iraq oil field is in a terrible state. The civil engineering will take three months and at that stage we can flow oil," he said.

The oil fields are "critical to the future and the prosperity" of a country that has relied on oil for humanitarian aid during the past 12 years under the U.N. sanctions regime.

"It is estimated that it will cost around $1 billion to get the oil infrastructure to allow the field to yield its capacity of about 1.8 million barrels per day. We expect that Iraq will be exporting oil in about three months," Burridge said.

Kuwaiti teams under the protection of U.S.-led forces are fighting remaining oil well fires which may take up to three weeks to put out, said Burridge.

The nearly 500 oil wells in the Rumaila fields had been rigged with explosives but only nine set alight by retreating Iraqi forces.

"Elements of 7 Armored Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade have secured the Rumaila oil fields and our explosive ordnance disposal teams are continuing the difficult and dangerous task of clearing the munitions and booby-traps that the regime has left behind," Burridge said.

British explosive ordnance teams have secured wellheads in the Northern Rumaila fields, he added. And Burridge said offshore terminals of the Al Faw Peninsula, the port of Mina al Bakr and the Khor al Amaya area were also secure and safe. All the sites are in Iraq's southern coastal region

U.S. President George W. Bush Tuesday asked Congress for $489.3 million to cover the cost of repairing damage to Iraq's oil facilities.

Getting Iraq's oil fields to pre-1991 production levels will take at least 18 months and cost about $5 billion initially, with $3 billion more in annual operating expenses, according to a recent study from Rice University in Houston, Texas.

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