- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 22, 2009

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq’s Sunni vice president appealed Sunday for a “suitable recipe” to help transform his country’s “unbalanced” economy, joining other government officials in sounding the alarm over the nation’s finances.

Tariq al-Hashemi said a number of crises _ “some inherited from the previous regime and others as a result to the 2003 invasion” _ are hurting the country’s chances for economic development as it emerges from years of war.

Al-Hashemi blamed Iraq’s oil-dependent economy and reliance on imports on decades of war and poor economic policies in addition to political instability, violence and corruption that have left sectors such as agriculture idled.

The country’s economy will suffer further as chances for attracting foreign investment are “likely to diminish in light of the current world economic crisis … and with the scarcity in the international donations and aid,” he warned.

“A wise economic policy suitable to face the expected economic challenges for this year and for years to come is needed,” he said during an address at a three-day economic forum that opened Sunday in Baghdad.

Alarmed by plummeting oil prices, Iraqi officials have been scrambling since early this year to solicit outside help and find ways to diversify the economy.

Iraq, which holds the world’s third-largest known oil reserves of at least 115 billion barrels, is suffering a financial squeeze as prices plummeted about 65 percent from a summertime peak of about $150.

Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of state revenues.

Iraq’s parliament passed a $58.6 billion budget earlier this month _ a sharp reduction from the original $79 billion spending plan.

To increase production, the Oil Ministry has recently issued tenders to drill more than 50 new wells in a number of oil fields in the south as part of an accelerated plan to add 300,000 to 500,000 barrels per day to the current production of about 2.4 million barrels per day by the end of 2010.

Last year, Iraq also offered 19 oil and gas fields to international companies for development in two major bidding rounds, which are to be finalized later this year.

But al-Hashemi cautioned the ambitious plans will take time.

“Oil production is not expected to increase in the short coming period as this sector needs rehabilitation and good management with expertise and modern technology,” he said.

___

Associated Press Writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

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