Iraqs oil minister vows higher output, less graft

Baghdad, May 8 | Updated: May 9 2005, 05:42am hrs
Iraqs new oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, said on Sunday his ministry would follow a new motto in a country gripped by guerrilla bombings and sabotage of pipelines: "Fight corruption and boost production."

Shortly after Parliament approved Bahr al-Uloum to head one of the countrys most strategic portfolios, he vowed to lift exports to 1.75 million barrels per day and tackle corruption. But the petroleum engineer did not spell out any concrete plans to reach his goals in a country plagued by sabotage attacks on crude pipelines and corruption that is endemic in many ministries.

"Our new motto in the ministry is fight corruption and boost production," said the former exile. "There are several plans. We are going to review them and we are going to announce them sometime next week," he added.

Bahr al-Uloum, the son of a prominent Shiite cleric, had served as oil minister for nine months after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Bahr al-Uloum takes over the oil ministry at a time when insurgents appear to have regrouped while politicians bickered over forming a government following January 30 elections.

Any new policies will be set against the backdrop of growing sectarian tensions as Iraqs new leaders struggle to keep the country united in a new political landscape.

Shiites and Kurds are the new powers and once dominant Sunni Arabs have been sidelined after boycotting the polls or staying away due to fear of violence. Over the past 10 days guerrillas have mounted a blitz of attacks, killing more than 300 people.

Iraq is hoping to resume oil exports through its northern pipeline to Turkey soon. For now, all its exports are through its southern terminals on the Gulf.

But even if the oil starts flowing again through a pipeline that has been rendered idle by bombings for much of the past two years, insurgents have proven they are capable of striking again at any time and undermining exports.

Bahr al-Uloum called on the Iraqi people and fledgling security forces to help improve the oil industry and combat sabotage, which has deprived Iraq of billions of dollars in crude revenues needed to repair a battered economy.

"(Higher) production and exports and products can only be achieved with two conditions," he said. "First the cooperation of the people and their taking responsibility for this important oil sector. The other issue is the cooperation of the security forces in the interior ministry and defence ministry with the oil ministry," he explained.

After the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, Iraq had high hopes of returning to the oil market as a major power after years of United Nations sanctions that ravaged its energy industry and deprived the country of an Opec output quota. But guerrilla bombings targeting US-led troops and any Iraqi forces associated with them dashed Iraqs hopes.

Despite huge challenges ahead, Bahr al-Uloum sounded a note of optimism, promising to revive Iraq as a player in the oil market and Opec. "Iraqs position is positive in the oil market and it actively participates in stabilising prices and increasing production," he said.