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Car bomb hits recruit center; oil line struck

BAGHDAD -- A car drove into a crowd and exploded today outside a recruiting station for the Iraqi army, killing at least 14 people and injuring dozens, hospital officials and police said.

About 100 volunteers were trying to enter the recruiting center when a car smashed into the crowd, said Captain Hani Hussein of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

The bombing in the capital followed three days of attacks on the heart of Iraq's economic livelihood -- the oil industry. Insurgents blasted a major oil pipeline in the south yesterday and assassinated a top security official for the northern oil fields.

The attacks on the oil facilities effectively have halted the nation's export of crude oil. Iraq's oil output, the main economic engine for financing its reconstruction, has gone from more than 2 million barrels daily to a virtual standstill, an Iraqi oil official said.

In the car bombing this morning, details were sketchy. Ambulances raced to the scene near the Muthanna military airport, which houses US troops. The US military had no immediate comment. The nationalities of the victims were not identified.

Iraqi police cordoned off the area. Several vehicles, including an armored car, were destroyed.

In other violence, the US military reported that two soldiers died and 26 people were wounded, including two civilian contractors, when a rocket slammed into a 13th Corps Support base yesterday in Balad, north of Baghdad.

Elsewhere, radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his militiamen to leave the holy cities of Najaf and Kufa unless they live there, fulfilling a key aspect of an accord to end fighting between his militiamen and US troops.

The attacks are part of a wave of violence, including car bombings, shootings, and assassinations of government officials, apparently designed to undermine the new Iraqi government set to take power after June 30.

Iraq has the world's second-largest oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia, and it has been struggling to restore production since the US invasion last year. The disruptions were not expected to affect world petroleum supplies substantially, but stopping the flow for any amount of time would cripple the country's beleaguered financial outlook.

On May 25, a massive explosion halted flows through the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, the principal export route from northern Iraq. The terminus is the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea.

An explosion before dawn yesterday damaged a pipeline carrying crude oil from Iraq's southern fields to the Basra oil terminal in the Persian Gulf. Iraqi engineers had diverted crude shipments to that pipeline after another was bombed Monday.

"After the attacks of the last two days, the export from the south has been stopped," said Ibrahim Bahr al Uloum, a former oil minister whose term ended earlier this month and who remains involved in the industry. "As we approach the turnover date, we can expect more attacks."

The two southern pipelines export about 1.7 million barrels a day, according to the Middle East Economic Survey. Each day that the southern lines are closed will cost Iraq about $50 million, said Walid Khadduri, a specialist on Iraq's oil industry.

Control of Iraq's oil production was handed over to the country's new Oil Ministry earlier this month in hopes of stemming the attacks by casting them as Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence.

"There can be no confusion: Iraq's oil revenues are Iraq's to spend," Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said in a statement. "No longer will they be diverted to building palaces or to funding lavish lifestyles of a select few. . . . With the damage these terrorists inflict on our various infrastructures, they cause harm on our good people."

Athil Mohammed, a crude-oil trader in Baghdad, said everyone had not accepted that message.

"There are many people who have come from outside our borders who want to sabotage the oil pipeline because they believe that the oil does not belong to the Iraqis, it belongs to the Americans," he said. "They think it will have a bad effect on the Americans."

It was unclear whether the killing of Ghazi Talabani, the supervisor of pipeline security guards at Northern Oil Co., was meant as an attack on the oil industry or stemmed from rising ethnic tensions in Kirkuk. Three gunmen attacked Talabani's gray Toyota Land Cruiser as he was going to work. His driver was injured.

Talabani was a member of a powerful Kurdish tribe that holds political sway over a large part of the north. But Kurdish officials in Erbil said he was not a direct relative of Jalal Talabani, the leader of the second-largest Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Security in Kirkuk has worsened dramatically in the past six weeks, especially for Kurds. Five leading Kurdish officials have been killed in that period, including a senior police official, a Civil Defense Corps chief, and the regional director of agriculture.

Sadr's order to his fighters does not remove the militia presence from Najaf and Kufa because most of his followers in the twin cities live there and are not affected.

But the order is a major step toward ending the uprising Sadr launched in April after the coalition issued an arrest warrant for him in the killing of a rival cleric.

Material from Knight Ridder and other wire services was included in this report.

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