US-led forces have secured 80-90 per cent of Iraq's southern oil production capacity and aim to get Iraqi oil workers back on the job soon, a senior US army officer said on Friday.
Colonel Michael Morrow, advising the commander of US forces General Tommy Franks, declined to say when output from southern fields, capable of pumping some 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd), would restart from Iraq's Gulf oil terminal.
Other US officials have said oil output and exports from the south, which contributes 60 per cent of Iraq's overall production, was months away.
"I would tell you that coalition forces have secured the vast majority, or 80 to 90 per cent, of southern oil production capacity and all export facilities in the south," Morrow said in a telephone interview from Qatar.
British forces have secured much of the territory surrounding the southern city of Basra, leaving some areas north of Iraq's second city still unsecured. Morrow said US-led forces had secured all the wellheads south of Basra.
Engineers working under the protection of US-led forces have shut down the 174active wells in the South Rumaila field, and two wellheads set alight by Iraqi troops remain on fire, he told Reuters.
The experts have shut down about one third of the 285 wells in the North Rumaila field and are also working to close down and assess 56wells in the smaller Zubair field.
Adetailed assessment of all the facilities in the south will determine when production will resume, he said.
"Some of the fields might need maintenance," he said, adding that US-ledforces were keen for the return of Iraq's oil workers to help the operations.
"Ithas been our position that we want to have Iraqi workers back in the field to work the oil wells," Morrow said.
"Itis the Iraqi people's oil, and it is our goal to have Iraqis in a position that they make the decisions on how to get the fields back into place."
Morrow said he could give no information on the strategic northern oil hub Kirkuk -- home to an additional 600 oil wells -- where US-warplaneshit Iraqi positions on Thursday.