* Any forecasts could be derailed by increase in instability
* Twelve million bpd capacity target illusory for now
* Iraq production unlikely to be game-changing in near-term
By Barbara Lewis and Rania El Gamal
LONDON/BAGHDAD, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Iraq's crude oil output should rise to 2.8 million barrels per day by 2011 from roughly 2.5 million bpd now and reach around 4.6 million bpd by 2015, according to a Reuters survey -- not yet the surge that would make a radical difference to OPEC policy or world oil markets.
Security problems and inadequate infrastructure after decades of war and sanctions have depressed Iraqi output, which is still below a peak of around 3 million bpd hit before the 1991 Gulf War.
The most conservative of the analysts polled pegged Iraqi output at 2.5 million bpd by the end of 2011, while the most optimistic saw production rising to 3.2 million bpd.
While that range is narrow, for the end of 2015 predictions varied from 4 million bpd to 5.5 million bpd, a difference with potentially major implications for the oil price.
The mean and median prediction of analysts polled was 2.8 million bpd for the end of 2011 and respectively 4.6 million bpd and 4.5 million bpd for 2015.
Barclays Capital has cautioned against excessive optimism about rising output given the challenges.
Rather than give a year by year forecast, it predicted 3.5 million bpd by the end of 2014, but, citing political impasse and poor security, said "there does appear to be a growing potential downside even to that relatively downbeat forecast."
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait were likely to remain for now the only three OPEC countries with sufficient spare capacity to make a difference to the oil market at the margin.
"Iraq might well get there one day well into the future, but the road ahead is a long and treacherous one," the bank said in a note.
Oil firms that signed contracts last year to develop Iraqi oilfields declined to give public comment on their progress.
Irish explorer Petrel Resources, which has been continuously active in Iraq since 1999 and won a field development contract in 2005, even before last year's oil bidding rounds, also took a cautious view and gave only tentative forecasts.
"Progress will happen, but slowly and more difficult than expected," said David Horgan, managing director of Petrel.
"The underlying output trend is slowly down -- though there are obvious, relatively easy improvements that should arrest this," Horgan said.
"We should get a couple of million barrels per day easily in the next 3 years but the hyped numbers are unrealistic given the state of the ministry, water for injection, infrastructure, security."
In view of all the uncertainties, Samuel Ciszuk of IHS consultancy gave a range, predicting output would reach between 3 million and 3.2 million bpd by the end of 2011 under his most optimistic scenario and 5.5 million bpd by the end of 2015.
A "more realistic, but not pessimistic case," said Ciszuk, would place output at 3.1 million bpd at the end of next year and 4.5 million-4.6 million bpd by the end of 2015.
NO NEED FOR AN OPEC TARGET YET
Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani's has said he expects 4 million bpd in three years' time and that there is no need for Iraq -- for now the only OPEC member exempt from its system of output curbs -- to have a production target until then.
Iraq has already begun to position itself for a high limit, however.
The contracts it signed with oil companies last year could in theory take its oil capacity to 12 million bpd in seven years' time, placing it on a par with OPEC's biggest producer Saudi Arabia, although for most the goal remains hypothetical.
"The 12 million barrels is crazy," Total CEO Christophe de Margerie told reporters late last year. "We know there's a potential to maybe reach 7 to 8 million barrels some day and that alone would be a tremendous success."
Earlier this month, Iraq pitched for an OPEC target second only to Saudi Arabia's when it raised its proven oil reserves figure by a quarter, taking it above Iran, currently OPEC's second biggest producer. But then Iran raised its oil reserves figure back above Iraq's and both countries have made clear there could be further upward revisions.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which in the past, has used reserves estimates as part of its calculations of individual production targets has so far managed to avoid potentially bitter debate on realigning goals because the oil market has held firm and excess supplies have been absorbed.
A faster-than-expected increase in Iraqi production or a weaker-than-expected world economy could easily change that supply-demand balance against the backdrop of great political uncertainty in Iraq and global economic fragility.
A Reuters poll found oil demand next year would rise by 1.5 million bpd -- half the peak demand growth of 3 million bpd in 2004, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, adviser to industrialised countries on energy.
Below is a table showing the 10 responses used to calculate the mean and median of 2.8 million bpd for end-2011 and of 4.6 and 4.5 million bpd for end-2015. Respondent Estimated production end-2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
in mbpd Deutsche Bank 2.85 3 3.3 3.8 4.4 Dunia Frontier Consultants 2.5 3 3.5 4 5.5 Iraq Energy Institute 2.75 3.1 3.8 4.2 JBC Energy 2.85 3.3 3.9 4.9 Economist Intelligence Unit 2.65 2.87 3.14 3.49 4.21 6.02 Eurasia consultants 2.8 3.3 3.8 4.8 London School of Economics 3.2 3.8 4.3 4.5 4.5 Neftex Petroleum Consultants 3 3.9 4 4.2 4.4 Oil company (asked to be unnamed) 2.7 3 3.8 4.5 5.5 Consultancy (asked to be unnamed) 3 3 3.5 4 4 5 (Additional reporting by Isabel Coles in London and Martina Fuchs and Humeyra Pamuk in Dubai; editing by James Jukwey)