Iraq may not be able to protect its oil facilities because of a shortage of equipment and trained oil police, despite intelligence suggesting new attacks on the vital sector, according to Major General Hamid Ibrahim, head of Iraq's oil protection force.
Reuters quotes him as blaming al Qaeda for recent attacks on the Baiji [Bayji, Beiji] refinery, the country's largest, and on the Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline, and saying information showed insurgents would continue such attacks.
"We have confirmed information that Al-Qaeda will target the oil facilities ... All intelligence information indicates to continuous threats and we need to solve the real lack of oil police cadre," Ibrahim told Reuters in an interview.
"If we do not have a sufficient number of police, its (oil facilities) protection is hard because time is running out, especially with the withdrawal of (American) troops at the end of the year from cities."
Ibrahim said it was imperative to increase the number of oil police, currently at around 40,000, which he said made up about 70 percent of the force required.
"We need 12,000 police officers to fill the shortage," Ibrahim said. "If the expansion of the oil sector continues, we need to increase the number according to the expansion, just like all the neighboring countries."
The oil police chief said another problem was that in most of Iraq's southern oil fields, security forces had enlisted the help of about 3,500 civilian guards, whom he regarded as a weakness.
"It is hard to arm those guards because they do not have any status as policemen. They should be given permanent jobs so we can deal with them and take proper control," he said.
Oil smuggling was also a threat, Ibrahim said, and was used by organizations like al Qaeda to fund their activities.
"The gangs are stealing oil from pipelines unprotected by the oil police. Therefore, I insist that (we) put all the oil pipelines and strategy lines under the control of oil police, not contractors, to curb smuggling," Ibrahim said.
He said 28 oil police stations had been set up around Iraq to help combat smuggling, adding that more than 450 oil tankers being used for smuggling had been seized so far.