The moves are part of Iraq’s attempts to ramp up production, according to the Middle East Economic Survey (MEES) in its edition to be published on Monday.

  

In a statement attributed to Iraq's oil ministry, MEES said the restoration of the four stations - Abu Gharib 2 and Southern Fagah in Ammara province, Al-Rafidhiya near Basra and Al-Luhais - would help increase Iraq's oil production to 1.9 million barrels per day (bpd), the "maximum capacity from all rehabilitated southern fields."

  

MEES says Basra's oil export terminal can handle 1.9 million bpd.

  

Quiet steps

 

As for resuming exports through Iraq's northern pipeline, which runs from oil fields in Kirkuk to the export terminal of Ceyhan, MEES says there are "reports in industry circles that the authorities in Baghdad are quietly taking steps to restock the terminal at Ceyhan.”

  

"The authorities are deliberately not publicising the move for fear of attracting sabotage attacks on the pipeline," added MEES.

  

Interim oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum said on Thursday that Iraq's oil output was rising fast, suggesting that OPEC should take this factor into account when it decides on its production ceiling early next year.

  

"Iraq's oil production and exports are increasing at a rate exceeding expectations," the minister said in Vienna on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries  (OPEC).

 

"Iraq's oil production and exports are increasing at a rate exceeding expectations"

Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum,
interim oil minister, Iraq

He said production in November was about 2.5 million bpd and exports exceeded 1.5 million bpd.

  

He hoped that production would return by March 2004 to 2.8 million bpd, its level before the US-led invasion of Iraq.

 

As for the security of Iraq's oil infrastructure, which has come under frequent attacks by resistance fighters, the ministry said "security has improved significantly and there are plans to improve it even further," without providing details.

  

The ministry, in a statement in Vienna on Thursday, also said Iraq plans to hold a conference in Baghdad in February to attract international oil companies eager to participate in redeveloping and restoring the country's oil sector.

  

Iraq is a founding member of OPEC but is not included in the cartel's production quota system because of the wars and international sanctions that have devastated its oil industry since 1990.