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In the ancient land known as the “cradles of civilization,” there are new concerns that an environmental Armageddon is about to take place.

Will Saddam Hussein exchange his oil wealth for a fiery inferno as evinced in Kuwait in 1991? Will the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow with fuel instead of water?

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Kuwait’s Bergan oilfield ablaze during 1991 Gulf War

Both possibilities are being taken seriously by U.S. military planners looking to prevent what could become one of the worst ecological disasters in history – if and when the conflict with Iraq begins.

“You’d see mass unemployment, starvation and illness,” oil-well engineer Les Skinner told London’s Daily Telegraph. “It reminds me very much of the Book of Revelation.”

As WorldNetDaily reported in December, sources indicate Saddam had already begun mining his wells with explosives in ways that would make it most difficult to extinguish fires and cap the wells.

A senior U.S. military official now echoes that with the British paper.

“There are indications through reliable intelligence sources that those activities have been planned and that, in some cases, they may have begun,” he said.

The Telegraph says over the past month, the Pentagon has asked every one of the world’s major oil-well firefighting companies for advice and contingency plans.

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Landsat image of Kuwait, August 1990

During the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam Hussein employed a scorched-Earth tactic, igniting close to 700 oil wells in Kuwait as his forces retreated. Midday skies in Kuwait City were said to look like midnight. It took some nine months to extinguish those blazes, utilizing virtually every piece of specialist equipment available from North America.

Factors that helped firefighters mitigate damage then were Kuwait’s small size, flat terrain and easily accessible water supply via the Persian Gulf.

The situation is more difficult in Iraq, as many wells are located in mountainous regions far from the sea. They also have stronger flow rates of oil, thus making fires bigger.

Also an issue is the number of wellhead firemen, the elite who can handle the so-called “red zone” surrounding a blazing well. It’s estimated there are less than 100 with Kuwait experience, with many now in their 50s, and others since retired.

Houston-based Cudd Pressure Control, the world’s largest well-fire company, is additionally concerned about security issues – everything from minefields and unexploded ordnance to lingering Iraqi resistance and chemical and biological weapons.

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Smoke from burning oil wells darkens Kuwait in February 1991

“Luckily, biological agents don’t survive long near heat,” Skinner said. “But we need an assurance that the area is secure. If we’re under a plume of oil, drenched in it, we have to be sure someone is not able to fire a flare into the plume and cook a bunch of firefighters.”

But damage from fires and smoke could be just the tip of the iceberg if oil gets pumped into the water.

“The Tigris and Euphrates hold a large part of the fresh water for the Middle East,” Skinner told the Telegraph. “If he drains oil into them, we can’t use that water for firefighting. If there are ground fires, we may not be able to get to the wells.”

In 1991, Saddam poured into the Persian Gulf at least 10 million gallons of crude – over 20 times more than the Exxon Valdez spilled in Alaska – to preclude a marine assault by igniting a curtain of fire. The cost of cleaning it up was $700 million.

According to a 1997 paper by American University, more than 800 miles of Kuwait and Saudi Arabian beaches were stained with oil, devastating marine wildlife. Thousands of birds perished from contact with the fuel, and some turtles in the region either perished or were found to have lesions.

A Jan. 19 commentary published in the UK’s Observer by the environmental group Friends of the Earth stated that air temperatures temporarily fell in Kuwait by 10 degrees Celsius due to reduced light from the sun. It also estimated the total cost of environmental damage from the first Gulf War at $40 billion, adding that a thousand people had been expected to die as a result of air-pollution effects.

“Since Iraq has the second-largest proven oil reserves of any nation on Earth, the potential environmental damage caused by destruction of oil facilities during a new war must be enormous,” the commentary said.

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