Iraq’s Oil Embargo – a Half-empty Gesture

Iraq pumps some 2 million barrels of oil a day to the world market. When he announced a 30-day stoppage Monday, April 8, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein knew perfectly well that he would not shake the world the way Arab rulers did in 1973-74. In fact, the first volunteer to make up the marginal shortfall will be Saudi Arabia, the very Arab nation which spearheaded the oil embargo two decades ago.
Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal explained on April 4 that Riyadh was not considering the option of halting the flow of oil because it needed the revenue to aid the Palestinians.
Kuwait is likewise against any stoppage, a view likely to be echoed widely by other oil producers – whether OPEC members or, like Egypt and Oman, outside the cartel.
Even Iran, whose spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last Friday, April 5, called on the Arabs to halt oil exports for a month, made sure of its own uninterrupted revenue. His embargo proposal, backed also by Libya, was directed only against the United States and any West European nations supporting Israel – certainly not China or Japan.
Saddam’s announcement had the immediate effect of sending oil prices up by roughly 5 percent to above $27 a barrel. Because Iraq’s fellow-producers will make haste to make up the difference, the price is not expected by debkafile ‘s oil experts to go beyond $30. The Iraqi ruler, who knew his embargo gesture was just that, must have had a second ulterior motive besides pressure for Israel’s unconditional withdrawal from Palestinian territory – or even punishment for the joint Blair-Bush ultimatum that demanded he accept UN inspectors, or else In fact, according to debkafile‘s Middle East sources, the Iraqi ruler is on a fishing expedition in Palestinian waters to see what comes up in his Arab net.
Much ado was made over Iraq’s $25,000 stipend for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, on top of its financial contributions to the Palestinian struggle. Saddam is seeking to be anointed top sponsor of the Palestinian cause, at the same time dragging it out as long as possible. He believes that the more intense and extended the Palestinian-Israel confrontation, the longer it will take for the Americans to get their act together for an assault on Baghdad.
Saddam and Arafat are closely synchronized in this effort, just as they were in the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The Palestinian leader has virtually put his uprising at Iraq’s disposal, winding his suicide offensive up to crisis point in time to throw a spanner into the Bush administration’s Iraq campaign preparations. Arafat is ably supported by the Hizballah on Israel’s northern frontier.
Saddam’s oil embargo is also aimed at stoking the turbulent pro-Palestinian demonstrations sweeping moderate Arab capitals this week – Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and latterly, Saudi Arabia. He wants it to be translated by the Arab mobs into anti-American pressure on their governments to withdraw support from the Bush administration’s anti-Saddam offensive. If this does not work, the demonstrators will at the very least vent their frustrations against their governments – hopefully with destabilizing effect.
This rationale represents Saddam’s true sentiments towards his fraternal Arab neighbors – a far cry from the hugs and kisses so lavishly photographed at the Arab League summit in Beirut only ten days ago.

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