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Oil near $115, heads for 2nd weekly gain on Iraq fighting

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LONDON - Oil held near $115 a barrel on Friday, close to a nine-month high, and was headed for its second weekly gain on increased risks of disruption to supply from Iraq due to fighting between government forces and Sunni rebels.

Oilfields south of Baghdad, which export at least 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil, are unaffected. But the fighting in the north, and foreign oil firms beginning to pull out staff, pose a risk to supplies.

"The events unfolding in Iraq will continue to dictate the direction on the market and support the oil price for the time being at a high level," said Barbara Lambrecht, analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

Brent crude slipped 23 cents to $114.83 a barrel at 1343 GMT, after reaching $115.71 on Thursday, the highest since Sept. 9, 2013. U.S. crude was up 60 cents to $107.03.

Iraqi forces were massing north of Baghdad on Friday, aiming to strike back at Sunni Islamists whose drive toward the capital has prompted the United States to send military advisers to stiffen government resistance.

The fighting in Iraq has highlighted how outages have put a squeeze on surplus oil production capacity. Iraq's northern exports of about 300,000 bpd have been offline since March, while output has also been hit by unrest in fellow OPEC member nation Libya, sanctions on Iran and oil theft in Nigeria.

Brent has risen about 1.2 percent this week, after climbing 4.4 percent last week.

The Baiji refinery, 200 km (130 miles) north of Iraq's capital, was transformed into a battlefield, threatening Iraq's domestic energy supplies.

Government forces appeared to be still holding out in the oil refinery, the country's largest, residents said.

Obama said he was prepared to take "targeted" military action later if deemed necessary. But he insisted that U.S. troops would not return to combat in Iraq.

The increased threat to supply in Iraq coincides with outages that are keeping almost 3 million bpd of global supply - equal to more than 3 percent of daily world demand - offline in countries including SyriaLibya, Iran andNigeria.

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