Iraq's oil minister said on Friday he expected his country's output to rise by as much as 400,000 barrels per day in 2008, reflecting improved security in the oil sector.
Hussain al-Shahristani also said Baghdad expected to sign contracts with oil firms to help develop its super giant oilfields that are already producing -- an opening long awaited by the industry -- by the end of the year.
Baghdad is currently pumping 2.3 million bpd of oil and expects to boost supply to between 2.6 million and 2.7 million bpd during 2008, Shahristani told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
"We are increasing our production and all the increase will go to exports," he said.
"We expect the price to remain at the current level, perhaps slightly lower, during 2008. Perhaps between $70 and $80 (a barrel)."
Iraq's exports have risen largely because of more reliable flows through its pipeline to Turkey, which has been hit by sabotage and technical problems for much of the time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Baghdad is pumping Kirkuk crude from its northern fields to Turkey at a rate of around 480,000 bpd, a shipping source said on Thursday. Pumping had stopped last week due to a power cut.
While some in the industry are skeptical Iraq can sustain a regular flow of oil exports from the north, the Iraqi minister expected improved security to allow higher supplies.
"Although the infrastructure has been neglected for decades...in the oil industry we have managed to protect our pipelines. It's the electricity grid that keeps on being attacked by the insurgents," he said.
"There is a much improved environment for the security. We expect this to improve and allow us to increase our production and exports."
The minister said many oil companies had registered to be qualified to bid to help develop Iraq's oil industry.
"We are going to sign in the first quarter of 2008 technical support contracts -- bridging contracts for a year or two," he said.
"And we are going to go through the first bid round for the field developments -- these are the super-giant Iraqi fields, the brown fields -- we're going to sign contracts for the development of those fields by the end of 2008."
"We'll go through a second round of bids in 2009."