US toll in Iraq rises as year ends

Two more American soldiers have been killed in Iraq as the year wound down.

    Officers secure the area after a bomb hit a police convoy

    The deaths put the US military toll at 841, five short of 2004's lost lives despite political progress and efforts to quash the insurgency.

    Violence continued on Saturday.

    Armed men raided a house near Iskandariya, 50km (30 miles) south of Baghdad, killing five members of a Sunni family, army Colonel Hussain Shiyaa said, and a roadside bomb exploded in Baghdad, killing two police officers, officials said.

    A roadside bomb also exploded near the Iraqi Islamic party headquarters in al-Khalis, about 15km east of Baquba, killing five members of the party, Diyalaa police said.

    The two new deaths of US military personnel were announced on Friday by the American military. A bomb killed one soldier when it struck his vehicle in Baghdad on Friday, while the second soldier was shot and killed in the western city of Falluja.

    Fears of fuel shortage

    A man fills his car at a petrol
    station in Baghdad on Friday

    Hundreds of cars lined up on Friday at petrol stations in Baghdad as word spread that Iraq's largest oil refinery shut down two weeks ago because of threats of attacks.

    Nearly three years after the US-led invasion, a fuel crisis again threatens to cripple a country with the world's third-largest proven oil reserves.

    In Baiji, 249km north of Baghdad, the deteriorating security situation led authorities to shut down Iraq's largest oil refinery on 18 December, former oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum said.

    Bahr al-Ulum said the facility "is considered one of the vital refineries in Iraq" and produced about 2 million gallons of petrol a day.

    As word of the shutdown spread through the country, about 1000 vehicles waited at one of Baghdad's biggest petrol stations, known as the Jindi al-Majhul, or Unknown Soldier station.

    Children play as smoke rises
    from the Dura power station

    Ahmad Khalaf, 33, said he left his home at dawn and was still in line at noon. He expected to wait a few more hours before getting fuel.

    "After the rise in gas prices, now we have a gas shortage," he said. "I left my work early, and I don't think I will have the opportunity to return to work today because of this long line. Dark will come soon and I cannot work at night."

    Ali Mussa, a 51-year-old tanker truck driver, said he and his colleagues were working in a dangerous situation.

    "We demand that the government provide security and protection," he said. "The Baiji storage tanks are full and there isn't any shortage of gas there. The problem is that drivers are too afraid to go there unless they are protected."

    Baghdad has been suffering from a shortage of refined fuel, much of which is imported because of the country's diminished refining capacity. A number of demonstrations have been held around Iraq because of a 19 December increase in petrol prices.

    The death toll for the US military
    in Iraq for 2005 is 841

    At the time, the price of imported and super petrol was raised from about 13 cents a gallon to about 65 cents a gallon.

    The oil crisis has already cost one job, that of Bahr al-Ulum, the oil minister, who was given a 30-day vacation on Wednesday and replaced with Ahmad Chalabi, the deputy prime minister.

    Bahr al-Ulum had opposed a recent decision to raise prices for fuel and cooking oil as much as ninefold.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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