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Iraq accuses Iran of oil smuggling

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BAGHDAD, June 22 (UPI) -- Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn Al-Shahrastani has accused Iran of helping with oil smuggling, Al-Iraqiyah television reported this week.

"We blame the Iranian coastguard for allowing Iraqi smuggling boats to reach Iranian waters. Not only that. In some cases, these boats get protection from the Iranian coastguard," he said.

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"We have other problems, including smuggling and exploiting shared wells, with most neighbouring countries. Our corruption challenges are mainly domestic; they can be found not only within the Oil Ministry but within local markets as well. Therefore, I call on the Iraqis (involved in oil corruption) not to deprive the poor of their right to decent living. Some people, for example, buy gasoline at 250 dinars per liter and sell it back to those who badly need this product at 800-1,000 dinars!"

Linked with the widespread oil smuggling, the oil minister said, is the production surplus that affects the profitability of his country's oil industry.

"Due to lack of maintenance works and development plans, our oil refineries produce huge amounts of black oil, surpassing local demand. Unless this production is absorbed, the refineries will have to stop operating because of their limited storage capacity. This means that black oil has to be removed out of refineries. Neighbouring countries are not enthusiastic to purchase this black oil surplus because they hope to buy it trough smugglers at lower prices."

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When asked to be more specific, Al-Shahrastani replied: "Well, we basically have Syria and Turkey. Syria currently gets its black oil needs from private companies, which might get it illegally. The Syrians know that quite well. We officially demanded oil sector officials in Syria to get their needs from us at international prices."

During the program, the oil minister outlined his plans for combatting corruption in the Iraqi oil industry, and said: "Any staff member who turns out to be behind any act of corruption will be brought before justice. We will send names of corrupt employees to the Integrity Commission for legal procedures. Besides, such people will be automatically dismissed from service."

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