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oil rigsVIENNA: Iraq, the world's fastest growing crude exporter, expects more quick gains next year as foreign companies push production towards the highest level ever, Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul-Kareem Luaibi said on Sunday.


After stagnating for decades due to wars and sanctions, Iraq's oil output began to rise in earnest in 2010 after Baghdad secured service contracts with companies such as BP, Eni , Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell.


Flows have now reached 3.4 million barrels per day (bpd) - up nearly a million bpd from when companies got down to work three years ago - allowing Iraq to overtake Iran to become OPEC's second biggest producer.


The Iraqi oil minister said output in 2013 was targeted to reach an average 3.7 million bpd - just shy of an all-time high of 3.8 million, hit in 1979. Exports are expected to run at 2.9 million bpd, including 250,000 bpd contributed by the northern Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).


Exports this month are on course to "ramp up" from the 2.62 million bpd reached last month, said Luaibi, in Vienna ahead of an OPEC meeting on Wednesday.  OPEC member Iraq has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves and is striving for output of 9 million bpd by 2017-2020.


Gains next year are expected from Iraq's Majnoon oilfield, operated by Royal Dutch Shell, which should add more than 100,000 bpd by April, said Luaibi.


Run by BP, Rumaila - now pumping about 1.35 million bpd - should add a further 100,000 bpd, said the Iraqi oil minister.


Baghdad is also making strides on its neglected network of pipelines. Luaibi said a new 800,000 bpd oil pipeline linking the southern Basra oilfields with Kerbala, just south of Baghdad, had opened last week.


The aim is for the line to supply up to 600,000 bpd of crude oil from the south to Iraq's refineries and power stations.


There are more pipelines on the way. Iraqi officials will attend a road show in London on Dec. 14 to tout a new export line through Jordan and, eventually, Syria, Luaibi said. Total capacity would be 2.25 million bpd.


The plan is to export 1 million bpd of crude oil to Jordan, of which 150,000 bpd will supply Jordan's Zarqa refinery. The remainder would be shipped through the Red Sea port of Aqaba.


Luaibi also said the oil ministry plans to hold a fifth licensing round for 10 gas blocks in the first half of next year after amending the service contracts to make them more attractive to investors.


Center>Copyright Reuters, 2012

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