Hussain al-Shahristani, the Iraqi oil minister, said on Saturday that the pipeline had been fixed and pumping at a rate of 600,000-700,000 barrels per day would start in a few days.

Iraq began pumping crude oil from its northern fields to the port of Ceyhan on Turkey's southeast coast in August 2003,  six months after the US invasion. But the 960km pipeline has been plagued by sabotage ever since.

According to Iraq Pipeline Watch, there have been 316 attacks on oil industry personnel and facilities since the war began.

The lastest attack, according to the same source, was carried out on a section of the Yumurtalik pipeline in the city of Hassan about 40 miles southeast of Kirkuk on July 3.

Iraq sits on the world's second-largest proven crude reserves and securing exports is vital to the country's reconstruction plans.

Before the war Iraq pumped about 2.1 million barrels a day, most of it for export.

Western markets

With the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyan pipeline on July 14, and the pumping of Iraqi crude to begin in a few days, Turkey's hopes of becoming a key player in the global oil industry is closer.

The Ceyhan terminal, on the southeast Mediterranean coast, will supply Caspian and Iraqi oil to Western markets.