CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – All oil fields in Iraq now fall within areas controlled by the U.S. coalition, but it will likely be at least a few weeks before crude is flowing from Iraq again, an American general said Monday.
Allied forces had previously secured all 1,000 oil wells in southern Iraq. Kurdish allies last week seized the northern oil city of Kirkuk, Iraq's No. 2 oil center, which pumps as much as 900,000 barrels a day.
U.S. Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks spoke at a U.S. Central Command briefing in Doha, Qatar.
"There is one well we discovered in the north in recent days that is still burning, and that will be addressed as soon as we can do so," he added.
Brooks said it probably will be at least a few weeks before oil is flowing from Iraq again because fields in the north and south need to be cleared of explosives and repaired. Further work will be needed even after that, he said.
"Frankly the oil system has been neglected by the regime for a number of years," he said. "The potential of the oil fields and oil structure in Iraq is much greater than the reality of how it's been operating for decades. And we think that can be restored over time, but it will take time to do that."
Iraq has the world's second-largest proven crude reserves, at 112 billion barrels, but its pipelines, pumping stations and oil reservoirs have suffered for years from a dearth of funds and lack of maintenance. In recent years, oil has accounted for 95 percent of Iraq's revenue, an estimated $22 billion a year.
On Sunday, Kuwaiti firefighters extinguished the last oil well fire in Iraq's southern Rumeila field. Since the war began, firefighters have put out fires at four Iraqi oil wells that were sabotaged by Saddam Hussein's loyalists. Another seven wells sabotaged by Iraqis went out by themselves.
Saddam's forces booby-trapped hundreds of Kuwait's oil wells after invading the country in 1990, and blew them up during the 1991 Gulf War as U.S. forces drove them out of Kuwait. It took months for the fires to be put out.