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Iraqi oil wells, which the Islamic State has been setting on fire since August in its retreat from northern Iraq, are still burning, making life difficult for firefighters and citizens alike as they spew noxious gases into the atmosphere, making the air highly toxic.
About a dozen wells were set on fire in late August, many of them still burning, but more have been set alight by retreating IS fighters since the battle for Mosul began. Time reported in late October that the terrorists also set fire to a sulfur plant north of Qayyarah, which resulted in two fatalities.
At the moment, firefighters are trying to pump water from a reservoir into several burning wells near the town, using a system of pipelines to each of the wells. The dangers are not all in the air, and that’s making their task even more difficult.
ISIS did not restrict itself to torching wells in a bid to slow the advance of the Iraqi army and its allies; it also planted some bombs near the wells. As a result, before firefighters begin their extinguishing operations at each well, the federal Iraqi police combs the surrounding area for mines.
One firefighter told media that the flares have to be brought under control before the water is pumped via a makeshift pipeline, and then the well can be plugged with earth. Simple though this process looks, it takes a very long time—as much as a month for a single well. That’s why so far, out of 19 burning wells, only two have been successfully extinguished.
In the meantime, the Iraqi army is advancing on Mosul, but it’s facing a number of challenges from suicide bombers to sniper fire and the constant worry that the terrorists can easily melt into the crowd and launch an unexpected attack.
Iran’s Press TV quoted a senior Iraqi military source as saying that at the moment, the special forces are doing a home-to-home sweep in those parts of the area that have already been liberated from IS. This task is hindered by IS fire and by the presence of civilians. Said Major General Sami al-Aridi, “We are soldiers who are not trained to carry out humanitarian tasks.”
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.