Iraqi officials have endorsed a plan to convert dates into biofuel, an innovative project they hope will boost a once-thriving agriculture economy burdened by years of drought, government sanctions and war. A United Arab Emirates-based company will produce bioethanol from the dates that farmers can no longer use because they are rotting, said Faroun Ahmed Hussein, head of Iraq’s date palm board. The nation produces about 350,000 tons of dates annually, but consumes only about 150,000 tons. While Iraq once was a major date exporter, farmers now feed much of the rest to animals rather than export them because of the poor quality, Hussein said. Government sanctions and war have exacerbated entrenched problems such as high soil salinity and inefficient irrigation to ravage Iraq’s farming sector, the nation’s largest employer. “Farmers will be happy to sell their rotten dates instead of throwing them away,” Hussein said. He would not identify the company, how much bioethanol it would be able to produce, or how much it would cost.