By Mustafa Mahmoud
KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) - A bomb attack in the northern province of Nineveh halted oil flow through the Iraq-Turkey pipeline, which carries a quarter of Iraq's crude exports, a spokesman for Iraq's oil ministry said on Wednesday.
The attack occurred on Tuesday night, but oil flow is expected to resume in a "few days" after fixing the damage, Oil Ministry spokesman Asim Jihad told Reuters.
"A bomb attack ... has led to an explosion in the pipeline. There was no fire only an oil leak so flow was halted," Jihad said. "We have enough stocks in storage for exports."
The pipeline has a capacity of 1.6 million barrels per day and typically pumps 500,000 bpd.
Two sources at state-run North Oil Co. said pumping was halted on Wednesday morning due to an explosion but could not confirm if it was due to a bomb attack or a fault in the pipeline, which takes oil from Iraq's northern oilfields to the Turkish Mediterranean coast.
"I cannot be certain now if the explosion was due to a bomb attack," one source said.
A police source in the troubled northern city of Mosul, the capital of Nineveh, said the pipeline was bombed.
Nineveh, on the frontline of a potentially explosive dispute over oil, land and power between Kurds in their semi-autonomous northern enclave and Iraq's majority Arabs, remains a stronghold of activity by insurgents, including al Qaeda.
Iraq's oil infrastructure has come under attack frequently since 2003, hampering Iraqi efforts to boost lackluster oil production and exports above pre-invasion levels.
Iraq is now on the verge of a major expansion of its oil industry after signing a series of deals with international oil firms to develop some of its biggest oilfields, and boost its capacity to Saudi levels of 12 million bpd from 2.7 million bpd now.
Achieving that depends on whether the OPEC member can secure its oilfields, refineries and other infrastructure against insurgents and militia.
On February 26, militants attacked Iraq's largest oil refinery, killing four workers and detonating bombs that touched off a raging fire and shut down the plant in northern Iraq.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Rania El Gamal in Baghdad and Jamal al-Badrani in Mosul; writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Peter Graff)