IRAQ'S State Oil Marketing Organization has started notifying its traditional customers it will soon be ready to resume exporting oil and oil products, the Middle East Economic Survey reported yesterday. But the authoritative oil industry newsletter noted that the United Nations Security Council had not yet approved an Iraqi request to export $942.5 million worth of oil so that it can buy foodstuffs and other emergency supplies.
The Security Council's sanctions committee is scheduled to meet today to decide on the Iraqi request.
The council imposed a trade embargo on Iraq after its occupation of Kuwait last Aug. 2, allowing exemptions for humanitarian supplies.
Clearing mines planted by Iraqi occupiers on Kuwait's beaches and oil fields will take up to 18 months, the emirate's new defense minister said in his first interview since taking office.
Sheikh Ali Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah also told the official Kuwaiti news agency KUNA in the interview released Monday that Kuwait would review the makeup of its Army and planned to acquire sophisticated arms technology to compensate for its shortage of manpower.
The emirate had a population of 700,000 Kuwaitis and twice as many expatriates before the Iraqi invasion. Most of the population fled and has not returned since the US-led allies expelled Iraqi troops at the end of February.
Kurdish refugees were flown back into Iraq over mountains in which scores died on a long trek of terror out of the country, warily returning to an uncertain future in ``safe haven'' camps patrolled by Western troops.
The weekend flights, and plans announced by Western military officers to extend the protected zone in Iraq, were the first signs that the mass exodus by some 2 million people fleeing from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's troops was slowly being reversed.
So far, those willing to return can be counted only in hundreds, taken by US helicopters from a camp in southern Turkey to help work on a camp near the northern Iraqi town of Zakho, nine miles from the Turkish border.
The allies plan to bring in 1,000 young Kurdish men to help with the work and to encourage others to return.
Hundreds of thousands more refugees, uprooted by the Gulf War and fearing reprisals after two failed revolts against Baghdad, have yet to be persuaded to go back.
In southern Iraq, thousands packed their belongings and prepared to leave camps near Safwan for shelter in Saudi Arabia. Once there, they cannot leave except to return to Iraq.
Saddam appeared on Iraqi television to celebrate his 54th birthday.
Wearing a white suit, patterned tie, and a big smile, he kissed babies and small children at a two-hour reception.