Iraq Stops Oil Exports In
Support Of Palestinians

By Hassan Hafidh

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi President Saddam Hussein Monday announced an immediate suspension of Iraq's oil exports for a month in protest at U.S. support for Israel's incursion into Palestinian areas of the West Bank.
Saddam said the decision, halting nearly two million barrels a day or some four percent of international oil supplies, had been taken by the Revolutionary Command Council at a meeting in Baghdad Monday morning.
In a speech broadcast over Iraqi media, the Iraqi leader said: "The Iraqi leadership declared the complete stoppage of oil exports starting from this afternoon April 8 for a period of 30 days when we will further decide policy, or until the Zionist entity's armed forces have unconditionally withdrawn from the Palestinian territories."
The decision came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed to press ahead with a 10-day-old military offensive, in direct defiance of demands from Washington for a withdrawal.
Saddam said: "The decision is basically taken against the Zionist entity, and the American aggressive policy and not against anyone else. It is not meant to harm anyone but those who have decided to harm the Arab nation, including the Palestinian people."
Baghdad is under pressure from the United States and Britain to permit the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq to investigate its capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction.
The Bush administration said Sunday it was not yet planning a military campaign against Iraq but that the use of force remained an option.
President Bush, after a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Texas, said "all options were on the table" to neutralize the threat posed by Iraq.
There was no immediate response to the Iraqi decision from two other Muslim oil producing nations, Iran and Libya, who have said they too would embargo oil supplies but only if the ban found support from all Arab producers.
Such a move would appear to have been ruled out because big producers Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have already rejected a repeat of the 1973 Arab oil embargo that quadrupled oil prices, triggering a severe economic recession in the West.
Iraqi officials said their suspension would be lifted once the Iraqi leadership was satisfied that Israel had withdrawn from the West Bank.
Iraq exports oil under a humanitarian exchange with the United Nations, permitted as an exception to 1990 Gulf War sanctions.
Despit e its hard-line on Iraq, the U.S. is easily the world's biggest consumer of Iraqi crude, taking more than half of Baghdad's oil and depending on Iraqi supplies for about nine percent of its huge imports.
Iraqi Oil Minister Amir Muhammed Rasheed confirmed the suspension of exports had been implemented at 1000 GMT from both its export points on the Gulf and through Turkey. Turkish pipeline company Botas said it had yet to be notified.
About a third of Iraq's crude exports are piped north through Turkey to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan with the rest shipped from Iraq's Gulf port of Mina al-Bakr.
The stoppage helped propel oil prices higher, adding $1.04 to benchmark Brent to $27.03 a barrel, near a six-month high.
OPEC Secretary General Ali Rodriguez said he will consult with cartel ministers to see whether they saw the need to release extra supplies to fill the gap left by Iraq.
But one senior OPEC delegate said the suspension was "not such a big deal" and that there was no prospect of the emergency meeting that would be needed for ministers to decide to lift output.

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