Iraq's acting oil minister predicted Saturday that exports could resume in three weeks, which would allow the country to begin using its vast oil wealth to rebuild from the ruins of Saddam Hussein' regime.
Thamer al-Ghadhban also forecast a doubling of crude production in that period. Oil production is considered pivotal for postwar Iraq's future and Washington wants to use oil profits to fund the country's reconstruction.
Al-Ghadhban claimed Iraq was currently producing 700,000 barrels of oil a day - nearly three times the current estimate - and was working hard under U.S. occupation to increase that number as quickly as possible.
"It is a matter of a few weeks, and we can reach 1.3 or 1.5 million barrels a day," al-Ghadhban said at a coalition-sponsored news conference in the capital.
Prewar production under Saddam was about 3 million barrels daily. Iraq has the world's second-largest known oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia.
A resolution lifting 13 years of U.N.-imposed sanctions Thursday paved the way for overseas oil sales for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion began March 20.
In other developments:Traffic jams involving hundreds of cars are becoming commonplace on Baghdad's streets. Road rage is on the rise. With traffic lights not working and traffic police understaffed and indifferent, it's been left up to drivers navigate the capital's busy roads unchecked. The result: frequent chaos. Not surprisingly in the 100-degree-plus weather, tempers have been fraying, and fights have been breaking out.Iraqi soldiers complained bitterly Saturday about the allies' disbanding of the country's armed forces, with some threatening to take up arms against occupying American and British troops unless their salaries were continued, The New York Times reported on its Web site in a story prepared for the newspaper's Sunday editions.American occupation officials in Iraq, apparently preserving the prewar distinction between Kurdish-controlled northern areas and the rest of the country, will allow Kurdish fighters to keep their assault rifles and heavy weapons, but require Shiite Muslim and other militias to surrender theirs, under terms of a draft directive obtained by the Times. The newspaper says in its Saturday editions that the plan has been sharply criticized by Shiite leaders meeting with American overseers.The U.S. military announced Saturday that starting June 1, Iraqis will have a 14-day amnesty to turn in unauthorized weapons to coalition forces at weapons control points throughout Iraq. Most weapons possession was made illegal this week.The appointment of L. Paul Bremer early this month as the new head of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq, portrayed by the Bush administration as part of a smoothly running postwar plan, was actually a decision reached hastily by a White House increasingly worried about collapsing civil order in Iraq, according to senior administration officials cited by The Washington Post in its Saturday editions.U.S. soldiers on Saturday detained for questioning five members of an Arab delegation participating in voting for Kirkuk's new city council, saying they were suspected members of Saddam's Baath Party. The detentions came as 300 delegates gathered to choose a municipal council in this oil city, the scene of inter-ethnic clashes the U.S. military believes Saddam's loyalists may be trying to provoke.Kuwaiti newspapers reported Saturday that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair may soon make separate trips to Kuwait to thank their Gulf ally for its help in ousting Saddam. Kuwait stood alone among Arabs in openly supporting Washington and London in the Iraq war and was the launch pad for the invasion.The commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, says he knows of no negotiations for the surrender of Saddam's son Odai, amid reports that Odai might turn himself in. McKiernan says he'd be willing to facilitate such a surrender, but it would have to be unconditional.
McKiernan's statement is seen as an indication that the Bush administration will accept nothing less than unconditional surrender not only from Saddam's eldest son - and, by implication, his top advisers and Baath Party members still hiding in Iraq.
"There are no negotiations," McKiernan said. "There is a lot of intel, there's a lot of reports that we follow up on - on locations - but there are no negotiations going on. Nor would there be."
McKiernan's comments came in response to a report Friday in The Wall Street Journal, which said Odai was considering surrendering to American forces. The newspaper cited "a third party with knowledge of the discussions." U.S. officials said they have no information that would verify the claim.
Apprehending Odai Saddam Hussein, the ace of hearts in the coalition's deck of cards and No. 3 on its most-wanted list, would be a major victory for U.S. forces in postwar Iraq. Odai, known for being extraordinarily cruel and something of a loose cannon, oversaw the Saddam's Fedayeen fighting force.
Saddam himself remains unaccounted for, and it is uncertain whether he is alive. The same goes for his second son, Qusai. The Journal quoted the source as saying Saddam was alive and also in suburban Baghdad.