The only pipeline carrying Iraqi oil to Turkey was out of action yesterday, just three days after US forces managed to reopen it, the occupation administration admitted.
A fire that had burnt for more than 24 hours had been started by a bomb, Thamer Ghadban, Iraq's US-appointed acting Oil Minister, said.
Getting Iraq's oil industry working again is vital for US hopes of imposing stability. Ordinary Iraqis are incensed by the fuel shortages in a country with the world's second-largest proven oil reserves, and British troops last weekend faced riots over fuel and electricity shortages in the southern city of Basra.
The sabotage of the pipeline will be seen by many Iraqis as a blow against US efforts to export all Iraq's oil while Iraqis endure shortages. It will force the American oil companies seeking to repair the industry in the country to mend once again a pipeline they had already finished work on.
It is not the first accusation of sabotage. The British occupation administration in the south said that acute power shortages in Basra were caused by cables having been sabotaged.
The latest incident may have been the work of one of the resistance groups that carry out daily attacks on American soldiers. It took place north of the oil city of Kirkuk in the Sunni-dominated area of Iraq where there has been most resistance to the occupation.
It could also have been the work of oil smugglers seeking to safeguard their business.