* Sunni militants have taken much of north over past week
* Extra troops deployed around oilfields, drilling sites
By Ahmed Rasheed
BAGHDAD, June 16 Iraq has tightened security and
deployed extra troops around oil infrastructure and oilfields to
help protect its vital energy industry from Sunni Muslim
insurgents who have gained ground over the past week, a senior
Iraqi security official said.
Brigadier Moussa Abdul-Hassan, chief of the South Oil
Police, said additional troops have been deployed around
oilfields, energy facilities, drilling locations and oil
Militants from the insurgent Islamic State of Iraq and the
Levant have routed Baghdad's army and seized much of the north
half of the country in the past week, threatening to break up
Iraq and unleash all-out sectarian warfare.
"We have doubled security measures to keep oilfield
operations and companies 100 percent safe. Now we have more than
100,000 oil policemen on ground on high alert, ready to protect
energy facilities in the south," Hassan told Reuters.
"We formed a crisis cell to closely monitor the security of
foreign oil companies and we assured companies ... that their
security is our top priority."
Iraq looks to its massive oil resources for its future
stability and prosperity, but still confronts a resilient Sunni
Islamist insurgency now pushing southward towards Baghdad.
Iraq's mainly Shi'ite south, where the majority of the
oilfields being developed by foreign firms are located, has been
relatively safe and stable for the past two years.
"The checkpoints and protection posts were almost doubled
and oil police members have been equipped with more powerful
weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and rifles," Hassan
Basra, the main city in the far south at the edge of the
Gulf, has enormous strategic importance as the hub for oil
exports accounting for over 95 percent of government revenue.
Hassan denied rumours that foreign oil workers were being
evacuated from Basra and said work is going on smoothly at
oilfields around the city.
Officials from the state-run South Oil Co. (SOC) also said
operations in the southern oilfields are normal and none of the
foreign companies have informed them of any evacuation plans.
"Basra is safe as always. Somebody is trying to muddy waters
by saying foreigners are leaving," said a senior SOC official.
Iraq is now dependent on oil exports from the south after
Sunni militants attacked the northern Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline in
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Atti in Basra; Editing by
Oliver Holmes/Mark Heinrich)