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Currency News

Iraq's US ambassador says cheap oil slows recovery

WASHINGTON, Dec 16 (Reuters) - The steep fall in crude oil prices will wreak havoc on Iraq's government budget for the next two years and slow efforts to rebuild the country, Iraq's ambassador to the United States warned on Tuesday.

The Iraqi government, which gets 95 percent of its revenue from oil exports, has next year's budget assuming an average oil price of $80 a barrel, almost double crude's current value, according to ambassador Samir Sumaida'ie.

"We're going to have a problem next year," Sumaida'ie said in an appearance before the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

For 2010, he said if oil prices stay low, Iraq won't have enough money to pay the salaries of government workers, much less cover the costs for infrastructure projects.

"We will have severe financial problems," Sumaida'ie later told reporters. "This will impair our reconstruction program."

He said the Iraqi government will not ask the incoming Obama administration for financial help, but instead will try to borrow the money in the open market.

"Our intention is to stand on our own feet and take responsibility for our country," Sumaida'ie said.

The key to boosting Iraq's economy and its recovery is investment by foreign oil companies to develop the country's vast crude reserves, according to Sumaida'ie.

"We need huge investment to build up our oil infrastructure," he said.

Foreign oil companies are eager to do business in Iraq, but they can't until Iraq's government agrees on a hydrocarbons law that spells out the legal terms for searching and drilling for oil and how oil revenue will be shared.

Sumaida'ie said he expects Iraq's hydrocarbons law will eventually be passed in a package of several pieces of legislation. He did not elaborate. (Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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