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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Huge Oil Fire Burning Near Tikrit

Aired September 18, 2003 - 05:22   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: This just in to CNN. There is a huge oil fire burning right now near Tikrit. Of course, that's in Iraq. These are the first pictures we're getting of it, so let's head there live by video phone and check in with Jason Bellini.
There you are -- good morning, Jason.

Tell us what's happening.

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol.

This fire started overnight and as you can see, it's still burning hot right now. The wind just changed directions a moment ago, so we're really feeling the heat. We spoke with the chief engineer from the Turkish-Iraqi pipeline and he told us it'll probably be another two or three hours before they can put this fire out.

Right now they're using bulldozers to push dirt onto the pipeline itself, where the fire started. They're also spraying water at various times onto this fire.

Now, he told us it looks to him like sabotage, that he believes an explosion caused this fire. Now, we talked to the coalition earlier today, the Army's 4th I.D., and they said that we should not jump to conclusions, that this could be just a routine affair. Sometimes they have to dump oil from the pipeline and then the fire gets lit and it looks like a huge flame.

But, again, to the engineer here on the ground, he believes that this was caused by sabotage -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Jason, do we know where this supply line leads? BELLINI: We do, indeed, Carol. We know that this is a pipeline that goes to Turkey. And he said that it will probably be several days before they can get the oil flowing to Turkey again. This is a very key pipeline, he told me. He also said that he -- his team is very short on parts at the moment, and that's been slowing their progress in getting this pipelines up and running again after these explosions. But he said, of course, before they can know how long it's going to take to repair this pipeline, they have to get the fire out first and to assess the damage -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, and I know they don't know the cause yet, but oil pipelines have been sabotaged before in Iraq. Of course, they must suspect that. BELLINI: Well, that's right. Now, the coalition, again, says that they want us to be very careful with our conclusions. They said there have been instances where what looks like an explosion -- looked like sabotage turned out to be something other than that, that it turned out to be something that's just part of the process in pumping oil. Those are people we spoke to back at the headquarters in Tikrit.

Out here on the scene, though, again, the people here -- and I spoke with several people with the, from the oil industry, oil experts, one geologist -- they say they don't think this could be anything but sabotage. That's what they are saying here -- Carol.

So conflicting views on what caused this explosion.

COSTELLO: And you mentioned they're having trouble getting parts to fight this fire. I guess in a way that surprises me because you'd think they'd have plenty of those kind of parts there by now. BELLINI: Well, you know, he said that that's a function of how many fires they're having to deal with. He's an Iraqi. He said he's never had to deal with this many fires before. He has a team that's very tired at this point. He's under a lot of pressure, he says, to get these fires out and then to get the oil flowing as quickly as possible, coming under pressure, he said, from the coalition to do this. And so he needs, he said, he needs more parts if he's to do his job as quickly as they want him to.

That's a very tough job right now, fighting fires, oil fires, in Iraq -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Jason Bellini, thanks very much.

We'll get back to you with an update later on DAYBREAK.

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