BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's newly appointed oil minister on Monday said the country's daily oil production has increased by about 100,000 barrels a day, exceeding 2.6 million barrels per day for the first time in 20 years.
Abdul-Karim Elaibi said Iraq's production of crude will continue to rise and will reach its planned, higher targets "sooner than expected."
"Today, our production exceeded 2.6 million barrels a day," Elaibi told reporters during a ceremony to formally put him in charge of Iraq's oil ministry after the country's new government was sworn in last week.
"We haven't reached this figure since 20 years ago," Elaibi said.
Last week, Elaibi also reported an increase by 100,000 barrels a day to 2.5 million barrels a day, saying it was a significant jump in a long while.
Iraq has awarded 15 oil and gas deals since 2008 to international companies in the first major investment drive in more than three decades aimed at strengthening the country's battered energy industry.
The crude-rich nation plans to raise its daily output to about 12 million barrels by 2017.
The increase in production is vital to bringing the war-torn country the sorely needed cash for reconstruction.
Oil revenues make up nearly 95 percent of Iraq's budget.
Falah al-Amiri, the head of the state oil marketing organization, SOMO, said the country's oil exports will be increased starting next month. They will exceed 2 million barrels a day from the nearly 1.9 million barrels a day, al-Amiri said.
Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq - the holder of the world's fourth largest oil reserves of 143.1 billion barrels - has struggled to reach the level of about 3 million barrels it produced in late 1980s before it invaded neighboring Kuwait.
The industry has been hampered by heavy damage to oil facilities during Iraq's decades of wars and international sanctions following Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.