BAGHDAD -- Saboteurs blew up a key northern oil pipeline yesterday, forcing a 10 percent cut on the national power grid as demand for electricity rises with the advent of Iraq's broiling summer heat.
Meanwhile, gunfire rang out last night in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf for the first time since an agreement last week to end weeks of bloody fighting between US soldiers and militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Residents said gunmen attacked a police station near the city's Revolution of 1920 Square, and it appeared that US troops were not involved.
Clashes persisted yesterday around Fallujah, a rebellious Sunni Muslim city west of Baghdad. Four members of an Iraqi force in charge of the city since April were wounded when a mortar round exploded. First Lieutenant Amer Jassim speculated the attackers were firing at Americans but missed.
The pipeline blast near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, was the latest in a series of attacks by insurgents against infrastructure, possibly to shake public confidence as a new Iraqi government prepares to take power June 30. The attack on the pipeline, which carries fuel to the Beiji power station, one of Iraq's largest, forced a 10 percent cut in the country's 4,000-megawatt production, Assem Jihad, an Oil Ministry spokesman, told Dow Jones Newswires.
The US-run coalition had made its ability to guarantee adequate electricity supplies a benchmark of success in restoring normalcy to Iraq. However, sabotage and frayed infrastructure have impeded efforts to eliminate power outages, especially in the capital.
More than a year after the occupation began, power cuts are common nationwide.
Elsewhere, Polish authorities said an explosion that killed six European soldiers -- two Poles, three Slovaks, and one Latvian -- south of Baghdad on Tuesday was caused by a mortar attack rather than an accident as first reported.
General Piotr Czerwinski, the head of a special investigating commission, said he suspected that Saddam Hussein loyalists were responsible for the deaths -- the first in Iraq for the small Slovak and Latvian contingents.