Iraq's February oil exports below planned level for IS fight

SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press
Members of an Iraqi Shiite militant group called Imam Ali Brigades launch rockets against Islamic State extremist positions during clashes in Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's oil exports for last month were below planned levels, the country's Oil Ministry said Wednesday, depriving the nation of badly needed funds for its battle against the Islamic state group.

Crude exports in February averaged 2.596 million barrels a day — almost a million barrels less than planned.

The exports grossed about $3.402 billion, based on an average price of $46.795 per barrel, said the ministry's spokesman, Assem Jihad. January's daily exports averaged 2.535 million barrels, bringing that month's revenues to $3.258 billion.

Iraq's 2015 budget is based on an expected price of $56 per barrel with a daily export capacity of 3.3 million. The nearly 119.6 trillion Iraqi dinars budget (about $102.5 billion) runs with a deficit of 25 trillion dinars (about $21.4 billion).

Since the Islamic State group launched its blitz last year in the Sunni heartland in northern and western Iraq, seizing a third of the country along with a large chunk of land in neighboring Syria, Iraq's oil exports have been severely hit. Government forces, Iraqi Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias have since managed to claw back some of the territory from the IS, with the help of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

The militants control a number of oil fields and have shut down facilities in nearby areas. Also, a major export pipeline that traverses restive Sunni-dominated areas of northern Iraq was shut down earlier last year due to attacks, preventing Iraq from exporting around 400,000 barrels a day.

In December, Iraq's central government reached a deal with the northern, self-ruled Kurdish region to pump some oil through Kurdish-controlled areas to Turkey and on to the international market.

The heart of Iraq's oil industry, which is in the mainly Shiite south of the country, has been spared the militants onslaught. But its export facilities on the Persian Gulf are often affected by bad weather, causing a dip in exports.

Jihad, blamed bouts of bad weather for the low exports in February.

Iraq has the world's fourth largest oil reserves, some 143.1 billion barrels, and oil revenues make up nearly 95 percent of its budget. The price of oil has fallen by about half since June to less than $50 per barrel. Like other oil-producing countries, Iraq's economy has been affected by the plummeting oil prices.

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