While this will give an important lift to the Iraqi economy and supplement world supplies, international petroleum companies are more interested in what happens after that.
Iraq has the potential to produce as much as 6 million barrels of oil a day, experts say, but reaching that level will require tens of billions of dollars and the most sophisticated drilling technology. That is where Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch/Shell, ChevronTexaco and others hope to step in.
"The undeveloped oil fields are really outside the limelight, but this is where the money is," said Fadel Gheit, an analyst at Fahnestock & Co. in New York.
However, many political, legal and economic uncertainties stand between foreign oil giants and the world's second-largest proven reserves.
For example: Who will rule Iraq after the interim authority is gone, and how open will those leaders be to outside investors? Also, how will Iraq react to pressure from OPEC members fearful of losing market share and profits to Iraq?
Given these knotty issues and others, industry experts do not expect outsiders to secure oil-drilling contracts in Iraq anytime soon — if ever.
"It is not a given that you're going to get this surge of oil out of Iraq," said Jim Placke, a senior associate at the Washington office of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, which is advising major oil companies about postwar investment opportunities.
Adds L. Bruce Lanni, an oil industry analyst at the brokerage A.G. Edwards in New York: "I still think it's a pipe dream."
The holy grail for oil giants would be if they could arrange production-sharing agreements with the Iraqi government — a common practice around the world but one that has been met with wariness in the Middle East. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Kuwait allows for production-sharing agreements, eschewing any semblance of Western exploitation or economic colonialism.
A typical production-sharing agreement puts the upfront financial risk — the costs of gathering data and conducting exploratory drilling — on the backs of the oil companies. Then, if oil is found, the company and the government controlling the natural resource work out a deal to share the revenue from oil sales.
Lee Raymond, the chairman of Exxon Mobil, recently told an assembly of investors: "I think we would apply the same criteria as we do everywhere in the world and that is you have to have confidence in the political system, the legal system and in the tax system before companies would show up to make major investments in the country."
Expatriate Iraqis who held senior positions in the country's oil sector before Saddam Hussein came to power are consulting with major oil companies in the event that the new regime does seek foreign investment. But there is no telling how much power these West-leaning technocrats will be given in the Iraqi oil ministry. Many of them are keeping a low profile lest they be seen as too conciliatory toward outside interests.
Interests that conflict with those of Western oil companies will surface, analysts said; it's just a matter of when and to what degree:
Iraq will face pressure from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries if it seeks to increase production beyond historical levels because, as its output grows, other nations might be forced to curb production and lose market share. Iraq, a founding member of OPEC, could easily be persuaded that pumping too much oil would cause prices to fall, hurting everyone's profitability. Conversely, it could decide to abandon the oil cartel.
Also, Iraq's new leadership might project a strong sense of nationalism or anti-Americanism and favor tight control over its natural resources. "They might say 'We can do it by ourselves,"' said Robert Ebel, director of the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"The experience of Kuwait after 1991 should temper expectations of a windfall," concludes the report by the Council on Foreign Relations and James A. Baker III Institute. "After hiring Western firms to put out its oil-field fires and repair surface facilities, Kuwait's parliament has routinely voted against contracting with foreign firms for oil-field development ..."
Notwithstanding the long-term uncertainty surrounding the development of Iraq's petroleum reserves, there is certainly money to be made right now by fixing up the country's dilapidated oil infrastructure.
Bechtel, a San Francisco-based engineering firm, and Halliburton, a Dallas-based oil field services company, already won massive contracts to help rebuild Iraq, although much of the work will be outsourced to smaller companies. The work, expected to generate billions of dollars in revenue over several years, includes: repairing well heads, restarting wells that were shut down during the fighting and rehabilitating pipelines, power plants and petroleum refineries.