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Saddam's oil embargo reveals truth about Iraqi needs



Published: Wed, April 10, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



To hear Saddam Hussein tell it, Iraqi children are starving because the United States is forcing curtailment in the sale of Iraq's oil. Why, then, has he declared a one-month cut in oil exports to protest Israel's military offensive in the West Bank? Either even more Iraqi children will starve because of Saddam's decision to pull back from the U.N.'s oil-for-food program or, as we suspect, the image of hungry youngsters is part of Saddam's on-going propaganda barrage.

He can't have it both ways -- although we suspect in the eyes of some apologists for the rogue nation, the implicit contradiction in cutting off the revenue that is supposedly so desperately needed makes sense. We don't think so.

In fact, it should be obvious that if Iraq can survive for a month without substantial oil revenue that this particular leg of President George Bush's "axis of evil" is in a stronger economic position than Saddam wants to admit or is selling millions of barrels of crude oil secretly or both.

Iraq contributes about 4 percent of the world's oil supply, but that amounts to a small drip in the barrel compared with the output of other petroleum-producing nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Russia, Venezuela and Mexico. So while Libya and Iran have applauded Saddam's action, they are unlikely to follow suit unless Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations jump on the oil-driven bandwagon.

Embargo downside: But in 1973, the last time Arab nations joined in an oil embargo, nations which depended on petroleum exports to survive suffered greatly as their revenues were slashed.

Thus, in November 2000, Saudi Arabia led the adoption of a pledge by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and other major exporters that oil would not be used as a political weapon. In response to the latest events, Ali Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, assured oil-dependent nations that there will not be a squeeze in the supply of oil. The Saudis, as the world's largest oil producer, recognize that OPEC's power could be greatly diminished by another embargo. While oil prices are increasing now, they are rebounding from record lows even as OPEC nations tried to cut production and stabilize prices.

Further, the United States and other economically powerful nations have developed strategic oil reserves and become more energy efficient as oil production has increased in non-OPEC nations, such as Russia, Norway, Mexico and Angola. All of which underscores Saddam's gesture for the political ploy it is.

With one hand he deflects attention from a possible assault on the Kurds of northern Iraq, while with the other he rallies Islamist extremists to his own banner.

The Butcher of Baghdad does nothing that will not accrue to his personal advantage.




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