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US Again Becomes Top Consumer of Iraqi Oil; Congress Considers Ban

DUBAI, May 11 (AFP) - The majority of Iraq's oil exports since shipments resumed May 8 after a month-long embargo will again go to the United States, the Middle East Economic Survey (MEES) reports in its Monday edition.

"MEES soundings indicate that Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) has already confirmed sales and scheduled liftings for around 850,000 barrels per day (bpd) and may be able to export as much as 1.4 million bpd," the industry newsletter says.

"MEES further understands that most of the exports are destined for the US with some to Europe, Morocco, South Africa, India and Taiwan.

"Major buyers include Valero, Chevron, Arcadia, Petrola, Glencore, TotalFinaElf, Sinochem, Vitol and Cepsa," the weekly adds.

The US Senate in April voted overwhelmingly in favor of an amendment to an energy bill that would prevent the United States from buying oil of Iraqi origin.

The House of Representatives now has to vote on the amendment.

In 2001, the United States imported some 10.6 million barrels of oil per day, according to official figures. Most of that came from Canada, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, but around nine percent was from Iraq.

Iraq has an export capacity target of 2.2 million barrels per day, and most of the shortfall is due to the loss of exports during the first week of the month before President Saddam Hussein ended an embargo in support of the Palestinians.

The United Nations estimated Iraq's loss from the embargo at 1.2 billion dollars.

Iraq is allowed to export oil under a UN-supervised oil-for-food program introduced to alleviate the suffering of the population from crippling sanctions slapped on Baghdad for invading Kuwait in 1990.

A vote in the Security Council to reform UN sanctions and free up the flow on non-milltary goods to Baghdad has been delayed for a few days at the request of Russia.