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Last Updated: Monday, 23 June, 2003, 05:57 GMT 06:57 UK
Iraq oil 'to flow from July'
The deadline for Iraq to start exporting oil has been pushed back again, as yet another explosion blew out a vital pipeline joining the country's northern and southern oil fields.

A US Amry oil tanker speeds past a burning pipeline at Hit, which US officials blamed on sabotage

As experts struggled to control the blaze near the town of Hit, 140km (90 miles) north-west of Baghdad, Thamer al-Ghadban, the former oil minister appointed by US authorities to oversee the industry, told reporters he hoped Iraq would start pumping oil from its oil fields in July.

"I hope (we will start) next month," Mr al-Ghadban said on the fringes of the World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan.

Despite calls by the US to privatise the oil industry, Mr al-Ghadban said he was opposed to the idea.

In the meantime, Iraqi oil stuck at the Ceyhan terminal in Turkey since the US-led attack started in March began being loaded onto tankers on Sunday.

The occasion was marked with a ceremony to celebrate the first official export of any oil sourced from Iraq in more than three months. More than 8 million barrels of oil are waiting in Turkey to be shipped.


The date at which full-scale exports can start has been pushed back repeatedly, and supplies are now likely to take longer to build up than first thought.

Part of the problem is the decade or more of decay while Iraq was under economic sanctions, which ceased following the fall of President Saddam Hussein's regime.

But acts of sabotage - Sunday's blast being another, according to the US - have also hampered efforts to get the oil flowing again.

Paul Bremer, the US official running Iraq, told reporters at the WEF meeting in Jordan that he expected to sell about $5.5bn of oil over the next six months, about two thirds of which would actually arrive by the end of the year.

Some of the revenue, he said, could be distributed directly to Iraqis, most of whom have now been without pay for three months or more.

Mr al-Ghadban, meanwhile, said current production is about 800,000 barrels a day, and could reaach 2 million by the end of the year - although he cautioned that it would probably be 2005 before the industry could make a financial contribution to Iraq's reconstruction.

And there was always the risk of more sabotage, he said.

"We have had repeated acts of political sabotage against the pipelines and the refineries in the last month, obviously efforts by supporters of the previous regime to disrupt our capacity to work with the Iraqi people," Mr al-Ghadhban said.

"We're going to have to deal with that, you could have some problems meeting production levels."

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