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Power plant in Iraq is sabotaged

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BAGHDAD, Iraq — An enormous power plant south of Baghdad was shut down last weekend by coordinated attacks on fuel and transmission lines, U.S. and Iraqi government officials said Tuesday. The sabotage raised new fears that insurgents were beginning to make targets of major sectors of the infrastructure as part of an overall plan to destabilize the interim Iraqi government.

At full production, the plant is capable of supplying nearly 20 percent of the entire electrical output of Iraq. But after the war, the plant's output plunged to nearly zero, and it is still generating only a fraction of its maximum capacity, said Raad al-Haris, deputy minister for electricity.

An official with the Coalition Provisional Authority, which is scheduled to hand over sovereignty to a new Iraqi government on June 30, confirmed that an oil pipeline south of Baghdad was struck in the past week. A second senior official in the Electricity Ministry said that the weekend attack was the latest in a series in the same area, and that repairs on the lines had repeatedly been followed by new strikes.

This official said the pipeline also delivered crude oil to at least one major refinery, whose operations had also been affected.

By Tuesday, enough repairs had been carried out to bring the plant's output to about 300 megawatts of electricity out of a possible 750 megawatts for most of the day, the Iraqi official said.

Power plants around the country put about 4,000 megawatts on the electrical grid, although demand is much higher — leading to frequent blackouts here, both scheduled and unscheduled — and is expected to soar even further this summer.

"International terrorists and Saddam loyalists continue to try to derail the emergence of a modern democratic Iraq," Dallas Lawrence, a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, said in a statement. "These terrorists hope that by damaging Iraq's infrastructure, by depriving Iraqis of basic services, they will be able to impoverish the Iraqi people and capitalize on a sense of frustration."

He added: "They will not succeed."

More worrisome than this specific act of sabotage, said Haris is the pattern of attacks on the country's electrical grid. He estimated that the high-tension lines that are the backbone of the grid had been attacked an average of twice a week recently, and he expressed irritation at what he said was a refusal by the Coalition Provisional Authority to provide security for the lines.

"They did nothing about the transmission line security," Haris said. "They should. They say, 'We have no such capability."'