* Iraqi oil exports highest level since 2003
* 409,000 bpd exported from northern fields
(Adds with more detail on exports, background)
By Aseel Kami
ISTANBUL, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Iraq exported an average 2.163 million barrels of oil per day in January, up from 1.951 million bpd in December, reaching its highest export levels since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, a top oil official said on Wednesday.
Falah Alamri, head of the State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO), told Reuters on the sidelines of an energy conference in Istanbul that he expected oil exports to continue to increase in the coming months.
The previous highest monthly exports since the invasion that ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein were achieved in July 2009 when shipments reached 2.037 million bpd, according to SOMO figures.
Iraq desperately needs tens of billions of dollars to rebuild its shattered infrastructure after decades of war, sanctions and underinvestment. It has ambitious plans to quadruple its oil production capacity as it emerges from the worst of the sectarian carnage triggered after the invasion.
Alamri said Iraq in January exported 409,000 bpd of oil from its northern fields near the city of Kirkuk, plus another 10,000 bpd taken through Jordan via trucks. As usual, the bulk of the exports was shipped from the southern oil hub of Basra, he said.
Iraq’s oil production has reached 2.7 million bpd, the first time it has reached that level in 20 years as investment increased and violence dropped.
It sits on some of the world’s largest crude reserves.
In 2009, the government auctioned off some of Iraq’s biggest oilfields. The deals have the potential to raise its output capacity to 12 million bpd in about six years though analysts say 6-7 million bpd is a more realistic target. (Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad: Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Pat Markey; Editing by Michael Christie)