Oil industry leaders believe Iraq's resurgence as a major producer will change the face of the world's energy market, but they warn that the country – and the Middle East generally – still needs to improve infrastructure, security and export paths.
At the annual International Petroleum Week conference in London, energy executives and analysts said Iraq's boost to production will have a profound impact, but were sceptical of the country's target to raise output from the current 2.5 million barrels per day to more than 12 million in around six years.
"I haven't found a single person who finds that target achievable," one industry member said at the London conference, where talks were held under the Chatham House Rule. The rule, which forbids the identification of executives and analysts, is designed to foster more open dialogue.
"It's much lower than that, but even so, Iraq is a complete game changer, even if it delivers half of that," he added.
The executive added that much would depend on the results of elections in March, which Iraqi officials hope will show that they are turning the country around following the turmoil and instability that has defined Iraqis' daily lives since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam.
"From the government which comes out of those elections, which we hope is free and fair, we're looking for good multilateral support for Iraqi oil in the medium to long term," he said.
Another executive said that the raft of contracts in southern Iraq, ramping up oil production in the area, would put pressure on the few available export routes.
Michael Daly, BP's head of exploration was asked by reporters on the sidelines of the conference about the new target, but he declined to comment in detail, saying only: "We'd be very happy with that outcome."
By JANE WARDELL