State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) Director Shamkhi Faraj in Baghdad said oil production had reached 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd), up from almost zero when the US-led troops ended the 24-year rule of Saddam Hussein in April.

  

"Hopefully, we shall keep on increasing production. Our plan is to reach the pre-war sustainable production level of 2.8 million bpd by the end of March 2004, and God willing, before then," he said.

 

Exports would rise in parallel from their current level of 1.6 million bpd to between two and 2.1 million bpd in March, he said.

 

Crude re-injected

  

Most of Iraq's output is coming from the southern oilfields which are currently producing 1.7 million bpd and providing all exports, transiting via the offshore terminal of Basra on the Gulf, he said.

  

Production in the northern oilfields around Kirkuk is crippled by resistance attacks on pipelines and other facilities.

 

Faraj said output from the north is running at 500,000 bpd, but the crude oil pumped out was mainly being re-injected into the fields after extracting the gas associated with it to supply the domestic market.

  

"The South Oil Company is surprising us every day, it is already producing 1.7 million bpd"

Shamkhi Faraj,
director, SOMO

The crude is re-injected in the fields because attacks continue to target the pipelines taking it to the northern refinery of Baiji and the Turkish export terminal of Ceyhan, on the Mediterranean.

  

The 300,000 bpd Baiji refinery and the pipeline network in northern Iraq lie in the region which formed the power base of the deposed president.

 

Security

  

Faraj said the oil ministry was reinforcing security on the northern pipelines, but the "task is difficult because they cover a long distance, hundreds of kilometres."

  

But even if security remains poor in the north, he said output from the south "is increasingly steadily" and would allow the country to get very close to its target of 2.8 million bpd in March.

  

"We hope production from the south will reach 2.2 million bpd in February. The South Oil Company is surprising us every day, it is already producing 1.7 million bpd. We were expecting it to reach 1.5 million bpd only at the end of the year," he said.

  

To allow for the increased output to be exported, work has started to rehabilitate the country's second offshore export terminal, Khor al-Amaya, in the Gulf. The facility was destroyed in the 1980-1988 war with Iran.

  

Iraq's estimated 112.5 billion barrels of crude oil reserves are the world's second largest after Saudi Arabia.