Fighting around the southern Iraq oil fields that US-led forces had previously thought were secure has driven out civilian firefighters trying to put out blazing wells.
“It’s not nearly as safe as they said it was,” said Brian Krause, vice president and senior blow-out specialist for Houston, Texas-based Boots and Coots. “We are kind of sitting ducks out there.”
The Iraqi resistance in the oil fields challenges US claims that southern Iraq is quickly falling under Allied control. US Marines declared the southern Rumeila oil fields in Iraq unsafe for journalists to visit today.
Krause said he had been told that Iraqi fighters dressed as civilians had clashed with British forces near the oil fields last night, killing two British troops and forcing the evacuation of his firefighting team.
Lynn Wray, a spokeswoman for the British military, said that she could not confirm the fighting or location but said that two British soldiers were missing in southern Iraq.
US military officials said armed Iraqis in civilian clothes, some of them possibly using women and children as human shields, were operating in the southern Rumeila area.
Krause was meeting US military officials today in Kuwait to discuss tighter security arrangements so his men can pursue the dangerous work of putting out the fires.
Securing the Rumeila 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 he rebuilding of the country.
British forces initially secured the area with nearly all of the key infrastructure intact.
Krause said that putting out the fires appears to be a straightforward job, easier than extinguishing 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.”
Krause worked for the legendary oil firefighter Red Adair and was involved in the seven-month effort to douse Kuwait’s fires in 1991.
Company experts surveyed the region by air on 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.