ABOT and KAAOT are not oil wells, but oil terminals. The actual wells are on land, and the oil flows through 4-foot diameter piping approximately 52 miles to the terminals. Ships from all over the world come alongside, fill their bellies and sail away, while money flows back to Iraq. If the pipes are ruptured, a minimum of the 52 miles of oil sitting in the 4-foot diameter piping will flow into the North Arabian Gulf, causing serious ecological damage and leaving Iraq less than penniless. There are shut-off valves which theorectically would limit the extent of the disaster. There is also some question about whether these aging valves actually work. Assuming they do limit the flow of oil to the sea, this might reduce the number of dead sea birds who tar and feather the coast, but it won't stop the government from bleeding its bank into the sea.
With so much at stake, the insurgents set their sights on the destruction of ABOT and KAAOT, while the Iraqi government and the Coalition assemble there to defend it. Only time will tell which side will hold. Coalition forces are not leaving the outcome to chance. They have set up defenses in depth. Warships from the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia surround the terminals. Although the terminals are sovereign Iraqi property, and the plan is to turn over the entire defense to Iraq as soon as possible, the show below is under the command of a senior Australian naval officer and his staff.
See my previous posts on these terminals here, here and here. And also, here's a NYTimes article on the protection of these assets.
(Hat tip to Chapomatic)
Update 6/30/05): A little surprised a barrier system like this hasn't been installed as a semi last-gasp measure.
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