Analysts say the 3 million-b/d figure was possible because of the large stocks Iraq holds at the Turkish export terminal of Ceyhan. However, the figures do not take into account the extra oil supplies exported through the ‘test’ pipeline into Syria, which were estimated at about 290,000 b/d in September.

A convincing reason for the volatility has not yet been put forward. Analysts say that while much Iraqi policy in recent weeks – including the release of prisoners and the return of documents to Kuwait – appears directed at the global community, the sudden ebb and flow of exports does not serve any obvious strategic goal.

Less spectacular but more compelling, the monthly average export figures appear to be rising in response to Baghdad’s September cancellation of illegal surcharges. Rising overall exports offer a double advantage: economically they generate extra income, while politically the threat of a cut-off acts as a disincentive to military action.

However, as the industry becomes more accustomed to the threat of war, market fundamentals are returning to centre stage for traders. The weekly US oil stocks data released by the government’s Energy Information Administration showed a third consecutive rise in reserves after near quarter-century lows in September.

The rise has prompted renewed questions over oil US oil demand, which has been low for more than a year. But forecasts point to very cold weather in the northern hemisphere this winter, accentuating the usual seasonal increase in demand for heating fuel.

The oil price in late October failed to recover the highs recorded earlier in the month, but stayed well within the upper limits of the OPEC target range of $22-28 a barrel. The OPEC basket of crudes was valued at $27.05 a barrel on 28 October.