Iraq's interim oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum said on Monday Saudi officials had shown they were ready to help Iraq get through this difficult period. 

"If we reach an agreement to reopen the Saudi pipleine, I do not think that the reopening of pipelines with other countries will take much time," he said.

The IPSA-1 pipeline, completed in 1989, was shut in the following year after the start of the Gulf War and has remained closed since. The pipeline goes to the Yanbu terminal near the Red Sea port of Jiddah.

Iraq has been seeking alternative export routes for its crude, after a series of attacks on its northern pipeline to Turkey which have deprived the war-torn country of vital oil revenues.

Without other outlets, Iraq will be unable to boost exports much beyond the capacity of the terminal at the southern port of Mina al-Bakr.

Exports up

Nonetheless, Bahr al-Ulum said Iraq's exports were on the rise.

"Iraq's exports have reached nearly 1.7 million barrels per day, with the exports going out from the south's terminal," he said.

Bahr al-Ulum expects exports to reach the pre-war total production level of 2.8 million barrels a day by March. Production is currently at 2.2 million barrels a day.

But he stressed Iraq was now looking for alternative routes to export its oil.

"Our priority consists of finding other routes beside the Basra terminal," he said. "We need to rehabilitate our pipeline infrastructure, especially in the north."