BAGHDAD (AFP) - Saboteurs blew up a key oil pipeline in northern Iraq
The pipeline fire in the northern refinery hub of Baiji, still raging late Friday, was certain to throw off US plans to further resuscitate Iraq's massive but crippled energy sector.
Only a day earlier, US officials hailed the expected reopening early this month of the country's main oil pipeline from the petroleum centre of Kirkuk to the Turkish Mediterranean terminal of Ceyhan, wrecked in a previous sabotage attack.
Oil exports are supposed to go toward paying the massive bill for Iraqi reconstruction, expected to run to tens of billions of dollars per year.
Suspected former regime loyalists in the Fallujah area again clashed with US troops amid an escalation of anti-US violence in the region west of Baghdad seen as a haven of Saddam supporters.
Four Iraqi men were killed when they attacked a US military convoy with rocket-propelled grenades, Sergeant Keith O'Donnell told AFP at a US base in Ramadi, near Fallujah where US troops come under fire almost daily.
"It was one of eight attacks in the last 24 hours west of Baghdad, the most extensive attacks in a while," O'Donnell said.
In a separate incident, three soldiers were slightly wounded when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device near a US base, O'Donnell said.
As the assaults on US forces continued unabated, so did the hunt for Iraq's most-wanted man.
Finding Saddam is clearly a top priority for the United States, which has handed out retouched photographs showing the ousted strongman in several possible changes of appearance.
Meanwhile, young Shiite Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr launched another attack against Americans as he sought to secure leadership of the country's majority Shiite population.
In his Friday sermon, Sadr took the US troops to task over heavy-handed tactics in their security sweeps.
Speaking to a gathering of around 100,000, Sadr asked: "Must we accept that Iraqis are humiliated and dragged helplessly along the ground by these soldiers? We demand that they be judged according to the Sharia (Islamic law)."