Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Iraqis Finally Put out Some Oil Fires Set Months Ago by IS

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Iraqis Finally Put out Some Oil Fires Set Months Ago by IS

Article excerpt

QAYARA, Iraq * For months, residents of the Iraqi town of Qayara have lived under a dark cloud of toxic fumes released by oil well fires lit by retreating Islamic State fighters.

But in recent days, oil workers and firefighters have extinguished the blazes closest to the populated center. The move has returned a small measure of order to Qayara, where complaints about government neglect have simmered since last summer, when the militants torched the oil wells as the Iraqi army drove them out.

The work is far from complete, but it could be a first step in easing some of the bitterness, anger and social fissures among people who desperately need government services and reconciliation after waves of retaliatory violence that followed the defeat of the extremists.

"The atmosphere is good. The wells are almost fully under control. They extinguished most. Some of them are still ablaze, but we see the morning, we can see the sun," shop owner Mohannad Seoud Ahmad Matar said Tuesday. "Ten days ago, this sky was completely dark. You couldn't distinguish day from night."

Eight burning wells have been extinguished in recent weeks, said Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad, adding that most were located near homes. The area's 54 wells once pumped nearly 10,000 barrels a day before Islamic State militants took the fields in their June 2014 onslaught when they seized a third of Iraq's territory.

Jihad could not say how many were still burning, but from the edge of the town, at least five separate sites could be seen.

The work has taken so long because of security concerns: Militants initially still had fired mortars occasionally into the area, and it also had to be cleared of booby traps and unexploded ordinance left behind by Islamic State fighters.

"The work accelerated since the security situation improved," Jihad said. "But it's still unclear how long it will take to finish, as there are still fires in wells and scattered oil pools."

Droplets of oil fell from the toxic clouds on the town south of Mosul, leaving a sooty residue on clothing, houses, crops and even livestock.

In one oilfield on Qayara's outskirts, blackened bulldozers pushed dirt over the burning ground at several sites to try to smother the flames. …

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