Oil settles higher as Iraq takes center stage

Getty Images

Oil prices rose to new nine-month highs on Friday as concerns persisted that an insurgency in Iraq could disrupt oil exports from the second-largest OPEC producer.

The surge in both Brent and U.S. crude prices this week lost some momentum on Friday as the market waited to see if the conflict in Iraq would escalate to civil war.

Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric urged his followers to take up arms to defend themselves against the advancing Sunni militants, potentially escalating the conflict. Most of Iraq's current oil exports come from south of Baghdad, still far from the Islamist rebel fighters. Should they reach south of the capital, analysts expect them to encounter much greater resistance.

Iraqi exports from the north are considered safe for the moment, analysts said, as the major Kirkuk oil hub is held by Kurdish forces.

Iraq crisis may escalate into 'regional war': Pro

Crude moved higher in late trading on unconfirmed reports about the Iraqi government, though most publications say the extremist forces were still on the outskirts of Baghdad. Brent was up 40 cents above $113.09 per barrel, off a peak of $114.69, but still at its highest since September. It gained more than $3 on Thursday.

U.S. crude settled up 38 cents at $106.91, off a high of $107.68 but also the highest in nine-months. A day earlier it gained $2.13.

Brent gained more than 5 percent this week, the biggest weekly rise since last July, while U.S. crude saw its biggest jump since December.

Militants won't succeed in southern Iraq: Pro

The International Energy Agency said on Friday that OPEC would need to produce 1 million barrels per day (bpd) more oil on average in the second half of 2014 to balance the global market, which will see a steep seasonal spike in demand.

The bullish assessment contrasted with the view of OPEC, which on Thursday said extra production would be more than sufficient to meet growing demand.

--By Reuters. For more information on commodities, please click here.