Iraq’s Baiji refinery, in the Salahalddin province has been shut down after an attack on the facility left two engineers dead and one unit badly damaged.

Gunmen stormed the 310,000 barrel-a-day (b/d) refinery at 4am on 26 February, shooting dead two engineers and planting bombs, AFP news agency reports, quoting Abdul Qader al-Saab, the facility’s deputy chief.

The Al-Shamal refining unit, which represents 25 per cent of the refinery’s production capacity, was badly damaged.

Iraq has only three major refineries with a combined capacity of 550,000 b/d: at Baiji; Shuaiba in Basra; and the Doura refinery in Baghdad.

Overall security in the country has improved since the peak of sectarian violence in 2007, but Iraq’s oil infrastructure security remains a major challenge, particularly for its pipelines. According to the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), the number of daily attacks has been significantly reduced as government cooperation grows with local residents.

Pipeline exclusion zones have proven useful only in remote areas, such as that between Kirkuk and Baiji. However, security zones in more populated areas, such as south of Baghdad, where local residents live, work and cross the pipeline at numerous points, have been less effective.

In general, the pipeline network in southern Iraq is secure, both in populated and unpopulated areas, while areas north of Baiji and near the Turkish border are considered to be “hot”.

To meet growing demand, Iraq continues to import gasoline, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and sometimes diesel.The Oil Ministry plans to build four new refineries, costing $23bn with a total processing capacity of 740,000 b/d. The largest will be built at Nassiriyah, in the south of Iraq, at a cost of $8bn. The US’ FosterWheeler is conducting the feasibility study and design for the 300,000 b/d refinery, which is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2012 (MEED 3:6:10).