The US Geological Survey (USGS) last week revealed that Iraq, which has the fourth-largest proven oil reserves in the world and is the number 12 producer of the energy commodity, also has the globe’s second-largest phosphates reserves. This was reported by USGS research geologist Greg Fernette at the Iraq Mining 2011 conference, in London.
Currently, Morocco has the world’s largest phosphates reserves.
The USGS has been working with its Iraqi counterpart, the State Company of Geological Survey and Mining, to map the Middle Eastern country’s non-oil mineral resources, in a programme to diversify the Iraqi economy. “Despite all positive change and reforms in various sectors, the uni- lateral [oil] revenue path of the Iraqi economy continues to be a matter of concern,” Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Rowsch Shaways told the conference. The country sought “industrial growth that contributes significantly to diversifying the economy”. “We will leave no stone unturned until Iraq reaches its full potential,” quipped Iraq National Investment Commission chairperson Dr Sami al-Araji.
Fernette described the Iraqi phosphates reserves as “world class”, their size as “fantastic” and their grade as a “little below average” but there was “variation and there is higher grade” ore. These reserves are estimated at 5.75-billion tons, or 9% of the global total.
There are four deposits that are regarded as the most promising. These are designated Akashat, Ethna, H3 and Swab. The two biggest, Akashat and Swab, are in the western desert province of Anbar and are large enough to rank in the top 10% of deposits worldwide. Akashat is believed to contain 1.7- billion tons of phosphates and Swab 3.5-billion tons. Their grade is a little under the average figure of 25% but some parts of the Swab deposit have a grade of 26%. Swab also has 4.2-billion tons of limestone.
“All modern agriculture depends on phosphate fertiliser,” Fernette pointed out to the London Financial Times. “If I were investing in minerals, I’d be visiting Anbar.” The Iraqi government intends to make the town of Akashat a phosphates production centre, with Asian countries the intended export target markets.
Iraq is also known to have deposits of dolomite, glauberite, gypsum, kaolin, marble, quartzite and silica sand. The country is reported to now be the only one with significant reserves of all the main elements required for agricultural fertiliser – phosphates, sulphur, potash and (derived from its natural gas production) ammonia and urea.
Interestingly, the exhibitors at and sponsors of Iraq Mining 2011 included the Dangote group, of Nigeria; Vale, of Brazil; Ascom Geology & Mining and Orascom Construction Industries, both of Egypt; the Aditya Birla group and the Welspun Corporation, both of India; and SKA Air & Logistics, of the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), as well as American, British, German and Italian companies.
During the second quarter of this year, Anbar province experienced violent attacks on a weekly basis, according to British security firm AKE senior risk consultant John Drake, while Baghdad suffered daily attacks and experienced more than 40% of all attacks in the country during this period. “It is still perfectly possible to do business in the capital, and, indeed, in all the parts of the country which still see regular violence,” he reported in Iraq Business News. “With proper security procedures, companies are able to overcome the many security obstacles presented in the country.”