BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's oil minister said Sunday the country's oil production has increased by about 100,000 barrels a day, exceeding 2.7 million barrels.
Abdul–Karim Elaibi also said that Iraq's oil exports will continue to rise and are expected to top two million barrels per day by the end of January, up from daily average of 1.95 million barrels shipped abroad last month.
Oil revenues make up nearly 95 percent of Iraq's budget, and the increase in production and exports is vital to bringing the country sorely needed cash for reconstruction after decades of conflict and sanctions.
Elaibi told reporters in Baghdad Sunday that production has surpassed 2.7 million barrels per day, but didn't specify which fields the increase came from.
Elaibi was appointed oil minister two weeks ago when Prime Minister Nouri al–Maliki's government was sworn in nine months after national elections. Last week, Elaibi reported an increase of 100,000 barrels a day to exceed 2.6 million barrels a day for the first time in 20 years.
Iraq has awarded 15 oil and gas deals since 2008 to international energy companies in the first major investment in the country's energy industry in more than three decades.
The government aims to raise daily output to 12 million barrels by 2017, a level that would put it nearly on par with Saudi Arabia's current production capacity. Many analysts say the target is unrealistic, given the decaying infrastructure due to many wars and more than a decade–long international embargo.
But authorities have ambitious plans for the future, and Elaibi said Iraq is considering a fourth bidding round later this year to further explore the country's vast oil and gas resources.
He said the ministry has allocated 12 exploration oil and gas blocs, but did not elaborate.
Since the 2003 U.S.–led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq — the holder of the world's fourth largest proven oil reserves of 143.1 billion barrels — has struggled to reach the level of about 3 million barrels it produced in the late 1980s before it invaded neighboring Kuwait.
The industry has been hampered by heavy damage to oil facilities during Iraq's decades of wars and international sanctions following Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.