October 10, 2011 / 9:20 AM / 7 years ago

Old landmines kill six in Iraq's Rumaila oilfield

* Six people killed by mines in Rumaila oilfield

* Iraq has an estimated 20 million landmines

* Demining one hurdle for oil companies

Basra, Iraq, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Six workers clearing mines in Iraq’s Rumaila South oilfield were killed over the weekend when a pile of mines and old ordnance exploded prematurely, police sources said.

Millions of old mines and abandoned weapons from the 1980 Iraq-Iran war and the first Gulf War still litter the southern part of Iraq where foreign oil companies are helping develop the country’s vast oil reserves.

The explosions on Saturday killed four people working for a local demining company and two Iraqi army officers, police sources said.

“The explosion happened when a joint team... tried to blow up a pile of war materials and mines inside Rumaila South oilfield,” a senior Oil Police official said.

Rumaila, a supergiant oilfield with a production of around 1.2 million barrels per day, is being developed by BP and China’s CNPC. BP did not immediately respond to a request for details on the incident.

Landmines are one threat to Iraq’s goal of rebuilding its war-ravaged economy and infrastructure by becoming a top global oil producer. The government signed deals with oil majors to develop its reserves, which are among the world’s largest.

Mines are among the hurdles faced by oil firms working on fields like Rumaila, Majnoon and West Qurna in southern Iraq.

Two Iraqi army engineers were killed by a landmine in a separate incident on Saturday when they tried to defuse it in a town near Basra, 420 km (260 miles) southeast of Baghdad.

Decades of war have left Iraq with one of the worst mine problems in the world, according to UNICEF, with around 20 million anti-personnel mines and more than 50 million cluster bombs believed to remain in border areas and southern oilfields. (Reporting by Aref Mohammed; Writing by Aseel Kami; Editing by Patrick Markey and Alistair Lyon)

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