his country's oil installations have suffered extensive damage "from Iranian artillery and warplanes and will require at least five years to repair once the war ends, the Iraqi deputy oil minister said.
The assessment, made by Deputy Minister Abdul Monem Samourai in a recent interview, offered a rare official glimpse at the extent of the damage to the Iraqi oil establishment since Iran and Iraq went to war in September 1980.
"There has been a lot of damage, but we are in control," said Samourai. "Some of the damage we cannot even estimate, such as the offshore terminals. They are way out in the Persian Gulf, which is a war zone. It would take a long time to estimate the damage."
Until recently, Iraqi officials had downplayed the seriousness of war damage and avoided appraisals of its effect. Some Western diplomats speculated that the new frankness here could be an Iraqi response to Iranian demands for reparations as part of a peace settlement. The diplomats said Iraq may be laying groundwork for equivalent reparations demands.
Despite the availability of new terminals on the Western market, Samourai estimated Iraq would require from five to seven years to restore its industry to a prewar level. He said that much would depend on the extent of damage to offshore facilities near Faw on the west bank of the disputed Shatt Al-Arab waterway as it flows into the northern end of the Persian Gulf.
Since bombings in the early days of the war, the offshore facilities have been unused and Iraq's oil exports through the gulf have halted.
Samourai said Iraq is exporting about 900,000 barrels of crude oil a day through three pipelines that cross Turkey and Syria to the Mediterranean. That figure is far below the 3.4 million barrels a day that Iraq exported before the conflict closed off the gulf.
He declined to say how much more Iraq could pump through the westward pipelines were the world oil market able to absorb it, indicating only it was "a little more." Other sources said the pipelines' limit is about 1.4 million barrels a day. In any case, diplomatic sources said, the figures are subject to fluctuation because Turkey and Syria use some of the oil pumped across their territories.
Although the level of Iraq's domestic oil consumption is considered secret, Western diplomats here estimate it has reached about 300,000 barrels a day. Military needs have first priority, but despite the 10-car lines frequently seen in front of Baghdad service stations, Iraqi civilians report no scarcities.
At current pumping rates and prices, Iraq's oil exports are expected to bring in more than $10 billion this year. But with an estimated $24 billion already borrowed from other gulf Arabs, and with a costly war proceeding simultaneously with a giant development campaign, President Saddam Hussein's government is particularly concerned about declining world oil prices.
Iraq strenuously pushed for the emergency meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries scheduled Friday in Vienna, and is seeking an OPEC-wide accord to halt price-cutting and discounts that have been undermining OPEC's benchmark price of $34 dollars a barrel.
"We should not allow any country to reduce prices," Samourai said. "We should prevent this."
Samourai attacked Iran's announcement that it is willing to reduce prices to increase sales for its own war chest. He also charged that Nigeria and Algeria are offering large discounts to fill balance-of-payments gaps caused by the slack oil market.
"These countries have being doing a lot of harm to the OPEC countries because they have problems at home that force them to reduce their prices," he said.
As a solution, Samourai said, Iraq will push for an offer from other OPEC countries for emergency balance-of-payments aid to any country tempted to lower its oil prices because of immediate needs for cash to meet obligations abroad. This would apply particularly to Nigeria and Algeria, he said, adding that the funds would have to come mostly from Saudi Arabia and its close neighbors on the gulf.
In reviewing war damage, Samourai said Iraqi oil refineries, pumping stations and loading terminals were inadequately protected at the outbreak of the war because the government did not expect them to become combat targets.
"We were not the first to strike at industrial installations," he said. "We thought that they should be kept out of the war."
Samourai said Iraqi officials were surprised by the first Iranian attack on an oil facility, a petrochemical plant near the southern city of Basra. The raid, which killed 26 persons, took place Sept. 23, 1980, in the opening days of the conflict.
In addition to the Basra facility and offshore installations in the gulf, Samourai said, Iranian warplanes have caused serious damage to the Kirkuk complex of storage facilities and pumping stations in northern Iraq. But since the early stages of the war, he added, Iraq's defenses have improved. He pointed out that two of the three Iranian planes that attacked Kirkuk oil targets last February 26 were shot down by antiaircraft missiles.