Iraq to Attend Next OPEC Ministerial Meeting

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Robert Koch • AFP

Published — Wednesday 17 September 2003

Last Update 17 September 2003 3:00 am

VIENNA, 17 September 2003 — Iraq will attend the next OPEC meeting of ministers in Vienna on Sept. 24, a spokesman for the group said yesterday, marking a return to business for the country that has 11 percent of the world’s oil.

OPEC spokesman Omar Ibrahim told AFP the new Iraqi Oil Minister Ibrahim Mohammad Bahr Al-Ouloum had accepted an invitation to the meeting in Vienna. “We have invited the Iraqi minister ... they are coming,” he said.

Iraq’s oil production has been excluded from Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) quotas since 1990 when the United Nations slapped sanctions on Baghdad following its invasion of Kuwait.

Neighboring Iran has been opposed to Iraq attending the Sept. 24 meeting, saying Iraq should only be allowed to return to the fold once its new US-backed government was recognized by the United Nations.

But on Monday in Doha, OPEC President Abdullah Al-Attiyah defended Iraq’s wish to attend the meeting. He told reporters: “The organization has to invite Iraq to the upcoming meeting in Vienna ... I believe in Iraq’s importance as an active member of the organization.”

A source close to OPEC said yesterday Al-Attiyah had been discussing Iraq’s presence at the meeting with the energy ministers of the other 10 OPEC member states.

Iraq has remained a member of OPEC throughout its isolation and has sporadically attended the ministerial meetings. It resumed oil exports in 1996 under the UN “Oil for Food” program that was intended to provide humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people whilst the sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime remained in place.

The program helped it export 3.6 billion barrels of oil in seven years. But before the United Nations imposed the sanctions Iraq was pumping 3.14 million barrels a day onto the market, putting it on a par with Iran.

The sanctions were lifted in May and the United States installed an interim Governing Council in post-war Iraq in July, but the authority has not been recognized by the international community.

Iraq became one of the founding members of OPEC in 1960, but sources say it could yet walk out in order to escape the confines of the quota system and export as much oil as it can to finance the reconstruction of the country. With an estimated 112 billion barrels of oil still in its soil, Iraq has 11 percent of the world’s oil resources, according to the London-based Center for Global Energy Studies (CGES). This means that it has the second-largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia.

Iraq has 2,000 oil wells and can theoretically produce 2.8 million barrels a day, but its infrastructure is old and has been sabotaged since the US-led invasion of the country. At the moment Iraq is producing roughly 1.5 million barrels a day, the top US official in the country, Paul Bremer, said Sunday.

Meanwhile, oil prices dipped to their lowest level for nearly four months yesterday as technical selling weakened a market already anticipating a rise in weekly US energy stocks figures.

The price of Brent North Sea crude oil for October delivery fell 39 cents a barrel to $26.08 in London, its lowest level since the end of May. New York’s reference light sweet crude October contract lost 74 cents to $27.40 per barrel in early deals. “We are seeing very weak technicals, funds selling,” said Barclays Capital analyst Kevin Norrish.

Traders were also expecting weekly data due out today to show a small gain in US reserves of crude oil and gasoline, which also helped push prices down.

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