Iraq: Oil prices may drag budget lower

BAGHDAD – Iraq’s parliament pushed back voting Saturday on this year’s budget and could be forced to make further cuts because of falling oil prices.

The latest delay in trying to ratify the current $64 billion budget proposal highlights the financial squeeze facing Iraq as declining oil revenues cut into reconstruction plans such as new roads and improved utilities — which the Shiite-led government hopes to use as showcases in national elections later this year.

The pinch has also brought calls by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for proposals to diversify Iraq’s oil-dependent economy with expansion of agriculture and other trade. But Iraq’s plans for this year have been dragged down along with the price of oil, which is now less than $45 a barrel after hitting highs last summer of $150 a barrel.

A Sunni lawmaker, Ayad al-Samarraie, predicted the budget will face more trimming after several previous cuts from its original $79 billion. The current budget is based on a $50 a barrel projection.

“We don’t expect that oil will reach this price,” said al-Samarraie, a member of the chamber’s financial committee.

He urged lawmakers to take a comprehensive look at all spending, suggesting that more money go to electricity and other public projects at the expense of deeper cuts in other areas.

Shatha al-Mousawi, the Shiite member of the finance committee, called for possible sharp reductions in the National Security Adviser office, which was established shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. She said it has 377 employees and suggested cutting it to just 16.

“The studies and reports show that the falling oil prices will continue for two or three years,” she said.

It was unclear when the budget could eventually come for a vote.

Army Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of Multi-National Security Transition Command, told The Associated Press that the budget crisis would force Iraq to make some very difficult decisions about how to grow its security forces.

“They are many, many hard decisions that they are going to have to make,” he said.

He said U.S. military advisers have been making recommendations to the Iraqi security officials on possible ways to deal with the shrunken budget. An example, Helmick said, could be reducing the number of Abrams tanks sought by Iraqi forces.

He said essential services such as Iraqi police and military payroll, electricity and water could not be cut.

In Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, Iraqi forces arrested 11 suspected insurgents including the so-called “oil minister” of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq, a purported political faction linked to al-Qaida in Iraq.

An Interior Ministry statement said Ali Mahmoud Mohammed and 10 other suspected insurgents were arrested in a raid in a Diyala village. No other details were given.

An al-Qaida front group announced the formation of an “Islamic Cabinet” in April 2007 in a bid to challenge the Iraqi government. The Cabinet purportedly includes the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq as “war minister.”

Iraqi authorities accuse Mohammed of hijacking oil tanker trucks, kidnapping and killing the drivers and blowing up oil pipelines.

In Baghdad, the head of the Iraqi High Tribunal said a mid-April trial date is planned for the first war crimes trial of Iraqis since the U.S.-led invasion.

Two members of Saddam’s former Baath Party are accused of executing two British soldiers taken captive by a mob in southern Iraq in 2003. The exact trial date has not been set, said Aref al-Shaheen, the head of the Iraqi High Tribunal, which was set up to hear the cases against members of Saddam’s regime.

The trials of Saddam and others have been under charges of crimes against humanity.

“It is the first case of war crimes … The two wounded soldiers were killed instead of given medical treatment,” said al-Shaheen.

At least 15 U.S. troops died in Iraq in February, including 12 who were killed in combat, according to an Associated Press tally. That compared with nine U.S. combat deaths in January.

A report from Iraq’s Interior and Health ministries said 211 civilians were killed and 437 wounded in February — compared with 138 killed and 303 wounded in January. The figures were given by officials from the ministries who spoke in condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.


Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub, Sinan Salaheddin and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report

source :


Blast damages NATO oil tanker in Pakistan: official

PESHAWAR: One person was killed and two wounded in northwest Pakistan on Saturday when a bomb exploded near a fuel tanker destined for NATO forces in Afghanistan, an official said.

The remote-controlled bomb was planted on the main highway linking Peshawar city with the Torkham border crossing, local official Fazle Akbar told by telephone.

The blast partially damaged the oil tanker, but its driver escaped injuries, Akbar said, adding a passer-by was killed and two local men were injured. A security official also confirmed the incident but gave no casualty figure.

The explosion occurred in the troubled tribal district of Khyber, where Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents have carried out a series of attacks on NATO vehicles and terminals outside the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The NATO and US-led forces in landlocked Afghanistan are hugely dependent on Pakistan for their supplies and equipment, around 80 percent of which are transported through the neighbouring country. Militants earlier this month blew up a key bridge on the main supply route for NATO forces and torched several trucks bringing goods from the southern port of Karachi for forces battling a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

source :

Oil mixed in Asian trade

SINGAPORE: Oil prices were mixed in Asian trade Thursday ahead of a report expected to show a build-up in US crude inventories during the recession, dealers said.

New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for March delivery, eased a penny to 34.61 dollars a barrel, within sight of the 32.40 dollars hit on December 18, when prices hit their lowest point in nearly five years.

Brent North Sea crude for April delivery was 36 cents higher at 39.91 dollars.

source :

Kuwait appoints new oil minister

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait has appointed a new oil minister to fill a key position left vacant since the Cabinet resigned in November.

Kuwait’s official news agency says Sheik Ahmed Al Abdullah AlSabah was sworn in Monday. It did not elaborate. He formerly served as health minister.

The other Cabinet posts were filled last month. In the interim, the oil-rich country’s foreign minister had been handling the post.

The last Cabinet resigned in November to avoid an attempt by three lawmakers to question Prime Minister Sheik Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah about corruption allegations and deteriorating public services.

source :

Oil prices steady in Asia

SINGAPORE: World oil traded steady in Asia on Monday after OPEC member Iraq predicted the cartel will announce further production cuts in a market struggling with weak demand.

New York’s main oil futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March, rose seven cents to 40.24 dollars a barrel in afternoon trade. Brent North Sea crude for March rose two cents to 46.23 dollars a barrel.

Iraq’s oil minister at the weekend predicted that the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) plans more output reductions.

“In March, OPEC will convene and there will be an intention for more production cuts to shore up prices and encourage production from non-OPEC members,” Hussein al-Shahristani said, according to his close adviser Falah al-Amiri.

OPEC recently signalled it would consider more output cuts in a bid to bolster prices. Since last July, when oil prices hit records above 147 dollars a barrel, prices have tumbled because of weaker demand in a slowing global economy, analysts say.

OPEC announced production cuts totalling 4.2 million barrels per day late last year but David Johnson, an oil analyst with Macquarie Securities, said 2.75 million barrels have so far been cut in practice. He said he does not see daily cuts exceeding four million barrels. “I don’t think they can do much more than that,” Johnson said.

Oil prices are stuck in the 40 to 45 dollar range, balanced between expectations of OPEC’s next moves and poor demand reflected in economic data such as Friday’s US unemployment figures, he said.

source :

Oil dips below $42 as inventories swell

VIENNA: Rising crude inventories and a dismal global economic outlook dragged oil prices below $42 a barrel Thursday, despite some hope that a massive U.S. stimulus package will revive growth and consumer demand.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ $819 billion plan passed Wednesday night aims at spurring growth amid the worst recession in decades. The package, which includes tax cuts for individuals and businesses, should create or save more than 3 million jobs, President Barack Obama said after the vote. The Senate will begin debate on the bill next week.

But a fourth week of soaring oil inventories dampened expectations that the stimulus plan could spark crude demand.

Light, sweet crude for March delivery fell 70 cents to $41.46 a barrel by midday in Europe in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 58 cents overnight to settle at $42.16.

The U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration on Wednesday said commercial crude oil inventories jumped 6.2 million barrels from the previous week, almost twice what was expected.

Overall supplies jumped to a 45.9 million barrel surplus, representing a 16 percent increase since 2008.

“We’re seeing inventory numbers piling up, so that’s going to keep the price of crude capped,” said Tey Tze Ming, a trader at Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore.

source :

Oil firms towards $42 after sharp fall

LONDON: Oil edged higher towards $42 a barrel on Wednesday, recovering from a 9 percent plunge the previous day after more evidence of deepening recession in the United States raised the potential for further demand erosion.

Traders were awaiting weekly U.S. inventory data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) due later in the day, which was expected to show still higher fuel stockpiles. U.S. crude rose 9 cents a barrel to $41.67 by 0941 GMT and London Brent crude climbed 62 cents to $44.35.

Oil gained slightly as some traders saw Tuesday’s sharp drop as a buying opportunity. World stock markets were also trading higher after reassuring corporate results on Wall Street. The global economic crisis has weakened crude demand, especially in developed economies, and knocked prices off peaks of over $147 a barrel hit in July. OPEC meets on March 15 to decide on output policy.

source :

Oil spill in Russian Far East kills hundreds of birds: reports

MOSCOW: A fuel oil spill off Russia’s far eastern island of Sakhalin has killed hundreds of birds in a wildlife area of international importance, Russian news agencies reported Monday.

“Hundreds of birds have been killed, including ducks, guillemots and divers,” the local news agency quoted the head of the Sakhalin diving centre Vladimir Bardin as saying.

“The shore is covered for three kilometers (two miles) with birds stuck in the fuel oil. The local population are trying to rescue the birds that are still alive and wash them,” he said.

He added there was a risk that the stricken birds could attract the rare Steller’s Sea Eagle — one of the island’s foremost wildlife attractions — which could choke and die if it attempts to eat them.

The spill in Aniva Bay on the south of Sakhalin took place six kilometers from a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant being built by the international consortium exploiting its Sakhalin-2 reserves.

source :

Govt. failed to get a slash in branded companies oil, ghee prices

KARACHI: All the branded companies are still selling their edible oil and ghee at Rs120-135 per kilo, despite government announcement of Rs3-5 per kilo reduction.

Karachi Retail Grocers Group said that the branded companies were selling edible oil and ghee at Rs120-135 in the local market, while the government had earlier in November 2008 fixed the oil and ghee prices at Rs98 per kilo, but the branded companies in brazen violation of the government writ continued selling their products at Rs135-140 per kilo. The government recently further announced a cut in oil and ghee prices by Rs3-5, but this time again it appeared that the branded companies are in no mood of abiding the government directives and the citizens are forced to buy oil and ghee at higher prices. Sugar price in the local market has also shot up by Rs6 per kilo during the last one month and it is being sold at Rs40 per kilo.

source :

Oil hovers above $40 in Asia

SINGAPORE: Oil prices hovered above $40 a barrel Monday in Asia as investors looked to key U.S. corporate results this week for indications of the health of the world’s largest economy and demand for crude.

Light, sweet crude for February delivery was down 55 cents at$40.28 barrel by midday in Singapore in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract on Friday fell 87 cents to settle at $40.83.

source :