01/18/2005, 00.00
IRAQ
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Oil behind Bishop's abduction

Rome (AsiaNews) – Sources in the oil industry suggest that politics and economics, not religion, are behind the abduction of Mgr Basile Geogres Casmoussa, the Syrian-Catholic bishop of Mosul.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Bishop Casmoussa himself said that religion was not the motive.

Equally, ransom money had to be excluded since none was paid, according to the Vatican and the Nunciature in Baghdad.

But at least, the oddest abduction in the short history of the new Iraq confirmed one thing—that Mosul is an unsafe place to be—and it reinforced the view that oil and the future reopening of the Kirkuk pipeline, just over 100 km (60 miles) from Mosul, were its most likely reasons.

In fact, the incident might force the authorities to postpone reopening the pipeline, which was scheduled to take place at the end of January, and delay oil exports from northern Iraq to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, in the eastern Mediterranean.

The northern pipeline normally supplied oil to southern Europe until they were interrupted on December 18 following an attack.

Reactivating the northern pipeline would also allow the government to compensate the 10 per cent output reduction planned for Basra (southern Iraq) due to technical reasons which is scheduled to last from February till June.

Oil exports are the Iraqi government's only source of revenue to pay for its bureaucracy, and finance the upcoming elections.

Bishop Casmoussa's abduction in Mosul, near oil-rich Kirkuk, casts serious doubts over the government's and the coalition forces' ability to run the region and is making foreign oil buyers jittery over Iraq's stability.

For many months now Iraq's attempts to reach full production capacity have in fact been thwarted.

In addition, OPEC has recently refused Iraq's request to postpone the organisation's next meeting scheduled for January 30.

The Iraqi government had asked a postponement so that the meeting would not take place on its election day.

At the meeting several member countries, especially Iran, are expected to demand an important reduction in output—one million barrels per day—in order to maintain the price around US$ 40.

Many oil exporters are concerned that a slowdown in the world economy and the coming warmer seasons in the northern hemisphere will lead to lower consumption and lower prices.

Tehran's proposal would however be at odds with Baghdad's demand to have the oil cartel accept the reopening of its northern pipeline, which was exporting 400,000 barrels a day before the December attack.

With the Kirkuk pipeline out of action, Iraq exported 1.55 million barrels per day last month. Before the war Iraq's exports averaged 3 million a day. The capacity of the Kirkuk pipeline is around 700,000 barrels a day.

For some oil industry analysts, the abduction of Bishop Casmoussa can be seen as part of a strategy to destabilise northern Iraq.

With Kirkuk oil exports under threat, Iraq's chief regional competitors—Russia and Iran—can profit. At the same time, the impotence of the Iraqi government is made manifest with all sorts of implication including its ability to organise and finance the upcoming election.

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Carnage at US base in Mosul, 22 dead and more than 60 injured
22/12/2004
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