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Iraq violence delays 1.5 mln-tonne wheat purchase
BAGHDAD, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Iraq has yet to finalise plans to buy 1.5 million tonnes of wheat because of a curfew aimed at ending sectarian violence, the trade minister said on Saturday.

"We've been busy with the security situation. We couldn't even hold meetings so nothing has happened on the wheat tender yet," Abdul-Basit Mawlud told Reuters.

Mawlud had said earlier a decision should be made by the end of Saturday on the keenly-awaited tender.

Iraqi trade officials are to meet in Baghdad on Sunday an Australian delegation trying to save one of its biggest wheat export markets.

Iraq suspended dealings with Australia's monopoly wheat exporter, AWB Ltd., earlier this month pending the results of an Australian inquiry into allegations it paid kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's ousted government under the oil-for-food programme.

A lot is at stake for Australia. Iraq is one of its biggest wheat markets and Australia is loathe to miss out on large tenders when its silos are brimming with a bumper crop.

There has been confusion about how much wheat Iraq planned to buy and where it would get it.

The Iraqi Grain Board had told Reuters it planned to buy wheat from European, Canadian and U.S. suppliers after cancelling a 1 million-tonne call for U.S. wheat, complaining that bids of around $200 per tonne were too high.

But another Iraqi trade official later said it would buy 1.5 million tonnes from Canada and the United States but not Europe.

U.S. grain traders said on Friday Iraq had bought 500,000 tonnes of wheat from Canada, though Mawlud and the Canadian Wheat Board have declined to comment on any deal.

Iraq usually imports 3 million tonnes of wheat a year.
MGR Archive 26.2.2006
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