BAGHDAD, IRAQ - Iraq's presidency has rubber-stamped a US$58.9 billion budget for 2009, after billions were wiped off spending plans because of a sharp fall in oil prices, a government spokesman said on Friday.
"The presidential council approved yesterday and without modifying the 2009 budget adopted by parliament," said Nasser al-Ani, a spokesman for the council, which includes President Jalal Talabani and his two vice-presidents.
The budget, slashed by nearly a quarter in recent months, was passed by parliament in March, when oil prices had tumbled below an already downwardly revised forecast of US$50 a barrel.
New York's main contract fell on Friday to US$51.99 a barrel.
The shortfall in the country's finances comes at a difficult time for Iraq as the war-battered nation of 29 million people struggles to emerge from a brutal sectarian conflict triggered by the 2003 US-led invasion.
With violence now hovering around its lowest levels in six years, officials have pledged to set about the monumental task of rebuilding the country's shattered infrastructure.
Restoring basic services such as water, electricity and sewage disposal is crucial to ensuring that the sectarian bloodshed that peaked in 2006 and 2007 is not triggered again by civilian unrest.
A projected US$20.3-billion deficit is expected to be financed by unspent allocations from the 2008 budget.
As for state revenues, 86 percent are projected to come from oil sales, based on projected exports of two million barrels a day. --AFP