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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Oil Price Collapse Takes Its Toll On Iraq

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Google+ Share by email Sherine Tadros Middle East Correspondent Follow Sherine Sherine Tadros Iraq's finance minister has told Sky News the OPEC cartel of oil-producing nations is "trying, really" to cut output and raise prices as his country suffers the effects of the weakness. Hoshyar Zebari said the country's revenues had fallen "dramatically" as a result of the market turmoil - at a time the government is trying to defeat so-called Islamic State (IS) in the country - putting a huge strain on resources. In Iraq, where more than 90% of government revenue relies on oil sales, a financial crisis is looming. With the ongoing war against IS, it is something ministers simply cannot afford. The government forecast the price of oil this year at $45 per barrel. It is now selling for around 30% less than that, impacting not only people’s livelihoods but also the security of the country. The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) failed to cut output last year to help prop up prices as it battles to maintain its market share from the challenge posed by cheaper, US-produced shale oil. Hoshyar Zebari Iraq Finance Minister Play video "OPEC 'Trying, Really' To Cut Output" Video: OPEC 'Trying, Really' To Cut Output However, a former Iraqi oil minister - now an MP on the parliament's energy committee - is optimistic that prices will soon recover. Ibrahim Bahr Al-Ulloum said: "We are seeing some discussion between Saudi Arabia and Russia and also from inside the OPEC to push Saudi Arabia to reduce production". The solution sounds simple – reduce production of oil and the price will increase. But in the long term, experts here, including Dr Ulloum, believe that OPEC, which was founded in Baghdad to unify the oil price, needs to be restructured to include other big oil producing nations including Russia. Mr Zebari told Ian King Live: "OPEC is trying really to cut production collectively and ..the gap between supply and demand will close by the end of this year - but these are all expectations." Across Iraq, businesses are going under. People are trying to save whatever money they are making in case things get worse. Prices are going up but salaries are not. The government has warned its 8 million employees that soon, it may be unable to pay their wages because of the huge state deficit - a deficit Mr Zebari put at 24%. Managers like Haider Rasheed, who owns a car dealership in Baghdad, say people are worried about the deteriorating security. He told Sky News: “We have militias, we have gangs in Iraq and now those people don’t have money and that means they will kidnap and commit crimes more. “Maybe they kill people to take money from them,” he warned. The huge deficit also affects the war effort and has the potential to reverse gains made against IS in recent months, which could not only destabilise Iraq but also its neighbours. Oil analyst Dr Sajad Jiyad thinks declining oil prices may also contribute to the European migration crisis: “Additionally you’ve got the young people who have had enough of, number one, the violence that has happened in Iraq in the last few months, and, number two, the economic fallout, and they are seeking a better life elsewhere.” It is a bleak scenario: as the economic situation worsens, so does Iraq’s fragile stability.

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