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imageBASRA: Oil exports from southern Iraq have averaged 2.48 million barrels per day (bpd) so far in March, a senior official said on Saturday, as Russia's Lukoil prepared to begin production from the country's second-largest field.

Production in the south has averaged 2.5 million bpd so far this month, and should rise to 2.65 million following the inauguration of the giant West Qurna-2 oilfield, Dhiya Jaafar, the head of Iraq's South Oil Company, also said.

Lukoil is due to start pumping crude on Saturday from West Qurna-2, considered the world's second-largest untapped deposit, with initial output of 120,000 bpd, eventually rising to 1.2 million bpd.

The launch of West Qurna-2, with recoverable reserves estimated at around 14 billion barrels, will allow Lukoil, which holds a 75-percent stake in the field, to more than double its overseas output.

For Iraq, OPEC's second-largest producer, it is one of several key fields that will help lift the economy after decades of sanctions and war.