Iraq cannot take full advantage of the increase in the U.N.-approved oil-for-food program because its petroleum industry is in disrepair, Iraq's oil minister said Saturday.
Lt. Gen. Amer Mohammed Rashid also told a news conference that if the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries calls an emergency meeting to deal with plummeting oil prices, Iraq "most probably" will attend.Rashid said that the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Richard Butler, would be welcome on his next visit to Baghdad, expected early in March, to discuss the agreement worked out by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on inspections of presidential sites.
Still, he railed at the United States, which had threatened a military strike against Iraq over the inspections issue.
He accused the Americans of "a hidden political agenda" and added: "They want to undermine the sovereignty of Iraq.. . . They don't want an independent leadership in the area."
The U.N. Security Council approved Feb. 20 an increase to the oil-for-food program that will allow Iraq to sell $5.2 billion of oil over six months to buy food, medicine and other necessities for its 22 million people. The current program allows sales of $2 billion every six months.
But Rashid said that the country would be able to export just $4 billion every six months - and this only after spare parts and special chemicals are provided for its ailing industry.
"We cannot export a quantity more than what amounts to $4 billion in the six months because of the production limitations . . . and because of the deterioration of oil prices in the market," Rashid said.
He put Iraq's current crude oil production capacity at 2.3 million barrels a day and said that with the investment of "a few hundred million dollars," this could be increased to 2.65 million in about three months. This, he said, would provide about 650,000 barrels daily for domestic consumption, leaving the balance of 2 million barrels a day for export.
"We have not had any revenues to compensate for the attrition of our oil fields," Rashid complained.
Denis Halliday, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, said that a U.N. team would be in Baghdad soon to assess the oil industry's need for spare parts.