Iraq oil exports running at half normal rate


Iraq's oil exports were still running at half their normal rate today as instability due to an anti-US uprising prevented the re-opening of a main pipeline feeding Gulf terminals, a shipping agent said.

Only one tanker was loading at a rate of 888,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Basra Light crude from platform number four of the Basra terminal, formerly known as Mina al-Bakr, he added.

Oil exports have been running at 50 percent below normal levels of about 1.8 million bpd for nearly a week after saboteurs attacked a 48-inch pipeline that links southern oilfields to two offshore terminals. A 42-inch pipeline is in operation.

The larger pipeline was repaired after saboteurs hit it last Monday, but authorities shut the line on Saturday after receiving intelligence that the Mehdi Army militia loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr might target it.

The Mehdi Army has vowed to attack Iraq's oil infrastructure in response to a US offensive against the 30-year-old cleric and his followers, which is drawing closer to the Imam Ali shrine in the centre of Najaf.

US crude oil futures hit $46.65 a barrel on Friday, the latest peak in a series of record highs, underpinned by fresh evidence of strong Chinese demand and worries about sabotage in Iraq.

Sabotage also has hit Iraq's domestic oil network over the past week, disrupting refinery operations and helping to create shortages of gasoline and other refined products in Baghdad.