Official: Iraqi Oil Production at Highest Level Since War Began

Iraq is producing an average of 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, its highest level since the war began in 2003, an oil ministry spokesman said Wednesday.

Assem Jihad said 1.6 million barrels are being exported daily from the southern port of Basra, while 300,000 are being pumped from the northern city of Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

The other 600,000 barrels produced daily are for domestic use, he said.

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Iraq, a founding member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, sits atop the world's third-highest proven reserves. Its estimated 115 billion barrels are exceeded in OPEC only by Saudi Arabia and Iran.

But oil production has plummeted since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 as the system faced repeated insurgent sabotage, attacks on maintenance crews, alleged corruption, theft and mismanagement. The nation was producing an average of just 2 million barrels a day in April.

Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, a Shiite who assumed the post a month ago as part of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's new government, has promised to increase oil production and give all Iraqis a share.

Jihad also said new measures were being implemented and he was optimistic that the situation would improve.

"We hope to add 200,000 to 300,000 (barrels per day) before the end of this year," Jihad told The Associated Press, adding he also hoped to double the amount of oil pumped from Kirkuk to Ceyhan in that time period.

Iraq's oil industry has never regained even the reduced production levels that prevailed in the 1990s, when Iraq was under tough U.N. sanctions. In 1990, probably its peak production year, Iraq extracted about 3.5 million barrels a day.

Crude oil prices rose above $72 a barrel Wednesday on anticipated strong demand over the Fourth of July weekend in the United States and the dispute over Iran's uranium enrichment program.

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