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Iraq Says Can Be Top Global Oil Producer In 6-7 Years

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said today he expected Iraq to become the world's top oil producer in six to seven years, and that OPEC should take into account Iraq's need to rebuild its economy.

Emerging from the shadow of war and keen to generate petrodollars to rebuild, Baghdad looks set to lift capacity to 12 million barrels per day in six or seven years, strengthening its hand for future negotiations on output quotas with OPEC.

"We can't find a reason to prevent Iraqi production becoming higher than any other OPEC state or even states outside OPEC. We expect that to happen in the next six to seven years with coordination and agreement with other OPEC producers," he said.

Iraq has signed a series of oilfield development deals with global oil firms -- which bid on prime fields at two energy auctions last year -- in a nation with the world's third largest crude reserves, emerging from years of conflict and sanctions.

Unlike OPEC's 11 other members, Baghdad is not subject to the output targets the group uses to set supply levels. OPEC exempted Iraq in the 1990s, when it was under sanctions.

"Iraq has been deprived of having a fair export level over the last years, during which we were not able to produce or export oil while other states got benefit from this and were able to export at higher levels," Shahristani told reporters.

"OPEC should put into consideration Iraq's need for oil revenues to rebuild its economy and country. Iraq has a definite need for these revenues."

Iraq said last week it expected to present to OPEC partners in 2011 ideas for guidelines on new quotas when Baghdad's plans to boost production capacity take shape.

The OPEC oil producers group is likely to try to get Iraq to curb output rather than pump all its extra capacity onto the market, analysts say.

"We are not interested to flood the market with oil. Our future policy is to get higher revenues for Iraq rather than higher production and flooding the market," Shahristani said.