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Cablegate: Tfiz01: Oil Smoke Clouds Over Kuwait

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. SUMMARY: People in Kuwait awoke March 21, 2003, to a dark
sky north of the city. Post confirmed through US military
sources that the smoke clouds were caused from multiple oil
well fires burning in Iraq and started by the Iraqis.
Kuwait's Environment Public Authority (EPA) said the sky
looked worse than it actually was and that the pollution
first registered in Kuwait shortly after midnight did not
pose any immediate health risks. With winds forecast to
continue blowing north to south over the next few days, more
oil smoke was anticipated, and the EPA said it would notify
post should the pollution reach dangerous health levels. END

2. Dr. Mohammad Al-Sarawi, Chairman of Kuwait's Environment
Public Authority (EPA), told Econoff his organization began
detecting low but rising levels of "sulfur oxide" in the
Kuwaiti air shortly after midnight March 21, indicating
hydrocarbons from burning oil. The EPA takes air samples
every five minutes from six fixed stations located throughout
the country, as part of its Emergency Response program

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3. At dawn, the sky north of the city appeared a dark
purple-gray color. US military sources in Kuwait confirmed
later in the morning that the pollution was caused by
multiple oil fires burning in Iraq, which were started the
previous night by the Iraqis. Fires were burning in the
southern portion of Iraq's large Al-Rumaylah oil field, a
small portion of which straddles the border into Kuwait,
where it is called Radqa oil field.

4. Dr. Sarawi said the pollution had not reached dangerous
health levels. He explained that the dark sky was caused by
smoke trapped in the "inversion layer," held between colder
and warmer air on either side, much like smog in an urban
environment. In Kuwait's northern city of Jahra, the sulfur
oxide level reached only 10 parts per billion, he said, and
would have to reach more than ten times this amount to pose
inhalation risks. He added that by early afternoon the sky
had cleared and the level of pollution had decreased
throughout Kuwait.

5. Dr. Sarawi said that he received several telephone calls
from Kuwaiti and international media outlets with questions
about the oil fires, but that his emergency operations center
had not received any calls from concerned people living in
Kuwait. Likewise, Post's operations center did not receive
any calls from American citizens asking about the pollution.

6. COMMENT: Given that many Kuwaitis and some Americans
living in Kuwait were here during the Gulf War and remember
how retreating Iraqi troops set hundreds of oil wells on
fire, turning the skies over Kuwait City black for months,
this most recent episode pales by comparison. Nonetheless,
Dr. Sarawi agreed to immediately inform Post should pollution
from oil fires or other sources reach dangerous health
levels, so that we can notify our staff and the larger Amcit

© Scoop Media

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