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Insurgents have bombed a critical potable water pipeline in Baghdad, disrupting service to hundreds of thousands of residents, officials confirmed Friday.

The explosion ripped an 18-inch hole in the pipe, which serves the Adhamiyah, Rusafa and Karradah districts of the Iraqi capital. Officials hope to have water service restored before Saturday and have the pipes repaired within four days, according to Multi-National Division–Baghdad.

"This cowardly attack against the water supply of the civilian population shows how desperate the criminals are," Maj. John Gossart, of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, was quoted as saying in a news release.

U.S. officials often use the terms "criminals" or "Special Groups" to describe mainly Shiite militants.

According to military officials, the bomb was believed to have been composed of around 20 pounds of homemade explosives.

U.S. forces "stand ready to assist the Government of Iraq to supply drinking water, if requested to do so." By late Friday, information on any such request was not available.

Water woes have long been a problem in Iraq’s capital, where water-borne diseases have spread.

Last summer, U.S. forces implemented a series of efforts to get drinking water to Baghdad neighborhoods. Water distribution sites were established at joint security stations, and military purification systems were put into use.

According to the United Nations, 67 percent of Iraqis don’t have access to piped drinking water and 75 percent have no access to a working sewage system. U.N. officials blame the lack of access to clean water on the continuing security situation, aging infrastructure and corruption.

A July 2007 report from Oxfam, the international relief agency, said 70 percent of Iraqis did not have adequate water supplies, up from 50 percent in 2003.

U.N. reports on drinking water — citing Baghdad water officials — put the daily need for drinking water in the capital at 3.25 million cubic meters. Around 2 million cubic meters are piped daily.

The U.N. also cited Baghdad Health Directorate reports that between 200 and 250 cases of waterborne diseases were being treated each week in Baghdad hospitals. The report notes that the figure includes only those who are able to seek medical care.

Lack of water and electricity has long been among the chief complaints of Baghdad residents. With the recent lull in fighting, American officials have said they will try to push infrastructure programs that were often swept aside by combat missions.

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