Iraq Testing Oil Flow to Turkey

Iraq was simply testing the pipeline when pumping was briefly resumed this weekend on its northern export link to Turkey (search), a leading Iraqi oil official said Sunday. He denied regular shipments to Turkey would resume shortly.

On Saturday, Turkish officials said Iraq resumed pumping oil through the 600-mile pipeline but stopped the flow after about two hours because of a leak. The Turks said the leak was not due to sabotage, although the line has been targeted in the past by saboteurs.

Turkey's Anatolia news agency quoted Gurhan Unal, a top official at Turkey's Ceyhan port, as saying repairs were underway. A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the flow could resume as early as Sunday.

However, the director-general of Iraq's Northern Oil Company, Adel al-Qazzaz (search), told The Associated Press that the brief resumption of the oil flow Saturday was meant to "test the lines."

He said pumping ceased after a brief period as part of the test. "If there is a leak, we will deal with it," he added. Al-Qazzaz said he did not expect regular exports to resume Sunday.

The Baghdad newspaper Al-Sabah (search) quoted an unidentified "official source" in the Oil Ministry as saying exports would resume through the northern pipeline at the end of the month.

The source said Iraqi officials expected to pump an average of 250,000 barrels a day through the northern pipeline initially, well below the average of 800,000 barrels a day before the war, the newspaper said.

Frequent attacks on Iraq's pipelines in the past have slowed the flow of oil to the export market. A brief pumping through the northern line in August --the first since the war -- was halted because of sabotage and other problems.

However, opening the northern pipeline running is crucial to Iraq's economic recovery because it carries crude from the vast northern fields that provide nearly half of Iraq's exports to world markets.

Although postwar oil sales resumed in June, the supply comes all from the south, amounting to 1 million barrels of oil a day compared to the 2.1 million Iraq pumped before the U.S.-led invasion.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, has said the country loses $7 million a day when the northern pipeline is not in service.