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Iraq to trade crude oil for Iranian gas to settle debt

Iraqi Kurdish losses reach $2bn amid oil export halt Reuters/Essam Al-Sudani
SapuraOMV produced about 30,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day from its two Malaysian assets

Iraq will begin trading crude oil for Iranian gas to end the recurring issue of payment delays to Tehran due to the need for US approval, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Sudani said.

Sudani said Iran had cut gas exports to Iraq by more than 50 percent as of July 1 after Baghdad failed to secure US approval to disburse owed funds, but Tehran had now agreed to resume gas exports in exchange for crude oil.

The deal was reached during talks with an Iranian delegation that was in Baghdad since Saturday, Sudani said in a televised speech.

Iraq imports electricity and gas from Iran that totals between a third and 40 percent of its power supply, especially crucial in sweltering summer months when temperatures can top 50C and power consumption peaks.

Iraq has had trouble paying for those imports. It owes Iran around €11 billion ($12.1 billion) in outstanding debts, Sudani said, and struggles to pay due to US sanctions that only allow Iran to access funds to buy non-sanctioned goods, such as food and medicine.

Even those procedures are complicated, and “contribute to unwanted delays in making the payments. Subsequently the funds are not paid to the Iranians”, Farhad Alaaldin, foreign affairs adviser to the prime minister, told Reuters.

By trading Iraqi crude for Iranian gas, Sudani said, Iraq would avoid rolling power cuts every summer while working to complete gas capture and extraction projects that would help make the country self-sufficient.

“We can’t for the next two or three years come to citizens every summer and tell them: ‘They stopped the gas, they started the gas’,” he said.

A state department spokesperson declined to comment on the reported barter deal between Iraq and Iran and did not address whether such an arrangement might violate US sanctions.

“There has been no change in US policy towards Iran or Iraq and the Biden administration continues to implement all US sanctions on Iran,” the spokesperson said, adding that Washington “strongly supports Iraq’s path to energy autonomy”.

Henry Rome, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, said a barter pact was unlikely to stop Iran from continuing to seek hard currency from Iraq.

“I am not convinced that a pure barter arrangement as described by Sudani is satisfactory for Iran given its need for hard currency,” he said. “Even if this arrangement is implemented, it would likely not obviate Iran’s pursuit of the billions of dollars still held in Iraqi accounts.”

The US has pushed Iraq, Opec’s second-largest producer, to cut its reliance on Iranian gas.

Iraq spends roughly $4 billion per year on imports of Iranian gas and power while burning massive quantities of natural gas as a byproduct of its hydrocarbons sector.

It has taken steps to change course. On Monday Iraq signed a massive deal with French oil major TotalEnergies that includes plans to capture gas from oilfields in the southern Basra region.