Thursday, January 3, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s oil output climbed in November, and the ministry in charge of production forecast yesterday that it could surpass 3 million barrels per day by the end of this year.

After a sharp slump in the wake of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said Iraq”s average production was up to 2.4 million barrels per day in November. Exports stood atabout 1.9 million barrels per day and sold at an average price of $83.87 per barrel.

The new production figures came on a day when world oil prices topped $100 a barrel for the first time.

Since 2003, Iraqi production has mostly hovered between 1.7 million and 2 million barrels per day, according to the International Energy Agency. Prewar production was 2.58 million barrels per day.

Mr. Jihad added that the exports had grossed $4.94 billion in November, which made up more than 90 percent of Iraq”s revenue.

“The ministry”s ambition is to increase the production to more than 3 million [barrels per day] by the end of 2008 and to pass the national oil law, which will enable us to draw foreign investment to our oil resources,” he said.

He added that resuming oil shipments through a pipeline from Iraq”s Kirkuk oil fields into the Turkish Ceyhan export terminal, which was often halted in past years by sabotage, had given Iraq more flexibility to increase production.

Iraq”s political factions last February drafted the first version of a bill to regulate the country”s oil industry in an effort to share its revenue among the Shi”ite, Sunni and Kurdish communities.

But the effort bogged down in parliament, mostly over delicate power-sharing issues involving the central government in Iraq. The Kurds, for example, want a greater say in managing oil fields in their self-ruled area of the north.

Iraqi oil officials said recently they hoped to issue tenders to develop the country”s vast oil fields at the beginning of 2008. They said the oil ministry was preparing contract models for the first group of oil fields.

Separately, a suicide bombing near a hospital in Baqouba, the capital of Diyala province north of Baghdad, killed seven persons and wounded 22, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials. Among the dead were a police officer and two members of a local Sunni council that is cooperating with U.S. and coalition forces after initially resisting.

Al Qaeda and Islamist extremists have been targeting members of the Sunni “Awakening Councils,” even as direct attacks on U.S. forces have fallen sharply in recent months.

U.S. spokesman Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said such attacks were the “clearest indication” that foreign-led al Qaeda forces were worried about losing the support of fellow Sunni Arabs inside Iraq.

With the aid of local Sunni allies, U.S. troops killed or captured 51 al Qaeda operatives in December, Gen. Bergner said. But he added that the terrorist group remains the top security challenge for U.S. and Iraqi government forces in 2008.

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