Anti-government protesters block Iraqi ports, threaten oil exports

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Protests in southern Iraq are crippling some of the country’s main ports and oilfields, threatening oil exports, particularly to India, industry sources said on Tuesday.

As India’s top supplier of crude oil, Iraq shipped 33.3 million barrels per month to the Asian country in October – topping Saudi Arabia’s exports to India for the seventh consecutive month.

But, protests in the southern province of Basra, one of the flashpoints in the largest wave of anti-government protests in decades, could hinder the flow of goods and oil exports.

Salam al-Basrawi, 39, an employee of the Iraqi oil ministry in al-Zubair, South of Basra, said protestors were not allowing any employees to access the port of Umm Qasr, which typically ships 700,000 to 800,000 barrels per month of Qayyarah crude grade to India.

“The Umm Qasr port is not functional though in Basra, which is the only way for marine trade. It’s been blocked by protestors and even employees are not allowed to go there as protestors set any car – including employees cars – alight should they want to go to the work in the port,” he told Al Arabiya English.

Port officials at the neighboring Khor al-Zubair port on Tuesday told Reuters that demonstrators are preventing trucks from entering al-Zubair port, used to import and export refined oil products, construction materials and electrical commodities.

In October, oil exports of the Qayyarah crude grade, which originate from northern Iraq and are shipped through the southern Umm Qasr port, slowed down to about 600,000 barrels per month, and are expected to decline further, according to Ranjith Raja, Lead Analyst – Shipping and Oil Research for Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at Refinitiv.

“Going forward, particularly in December, this is where we would expect the most impact,” said Raja.

The port is also used to transport shipments of refined products, such as gasoil and some naphtha products, Raja told Al Arabiya English.

Elsewhere, crude oil exports from the Basra oilfield – which are primarily shipped globally to China, Japan, and countries across the Mediterranean – have so far remained relatively constant, he added.

Meanwhile, protesters also blocked roads to prevent oil workers from entering al-Zubair oilfield, close to the port for a second day on Tuesday. One employee told Al Arabiya English that he was not able to get to work, describing a scene of smoke and burning tires.

“I couldn’t reach my work place because the road was blocked with flaming tires in the middle by furious protestors,” the employee said.

Al-Zubair oilfield is currently operated by a consortium led by Italy’s state-owned oil company Eni. With a daily output of 400,000 barrels of oil, it is one of the largest oil fields in the world.

Iraq’s oil exports stood at 3.576 million (bpd) in September, with approximately 96 percent shipped from Basra terminals.

In Iraq, which is the OPEC’s largest producer behind Saudi Arabia, oil accounts for about 90 percent of the government revenue. Much of the wealth generated from the exports goes into the country’s bloated public sector.

Worsening economic conditions and state corruption have triggered waves of protests in Baghdad and Iraq’s southern provinces since the start of October, in which about 315 people have died.

-Alaa Mahsoob Mohammed contributed to this article

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