“A brilliant move” was how the London Times’ foreign editor described Saddam Hussein’s announcement Monday that Iraq will unilaterally suspend oil exports for 30 days or until Israel withdraws from Palestinian territories. Bronwen Maddox continued: “Without firing a shot, he sent the oil price soaring, commanding the world’s alarmed attention and adding to the pressure on Israel, on a day when international condemnation left it more isolated than ever.”
Although most newspapers dismissed Iraq’s move as “symbolic”—Saudi Arabia has guaranteed it will not disrupt oil supplies, and it has more than enough excess capacity to supply the 2 million barrels Iraq exports each day—it was perceived as a smart PR move by Saddam, whose popularity on the “Arab street” has increased since he ratcheted up his support for the Palestinian cause. Toronto’s Globe and Mail declared, “Baghdad’s gambit was clearly aimed at rallying Arab support, especially among the masses who demonstrated against Israel military action yesterday in places like Sudan and Lebanon.” The Khaleej Times of Dubai said: “[T]he Iraqi strongman … is playing his cards very well in trying to regain his respect in the Arab world. … Now, by turning oil into a weapon, Saddam is set to earn the goodwill of Arab public, if not their leaders.” Last Friday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged Islamic countries to impose a one-month oil embargo on countries with close ties to Israel, though the Jordan Times reported Tuesday that Iran and Libya have since said they would only support an embargo if all Arab producers participated.
A British Foreign Office minister asked the Guardian: “How can Saddam Hussein afford to suspend Iraq’s legal oil exports for 30 days? His people depend on the revenues from these exports for vital food and medicines.” The Times observed, “In suspending oil sales for a month the Iraqi dictator will, of course, hurt his people by cutting revenues, but that has hardly deterred him before.” The Khaleej Times concluded that Saddam believes the loss of income for Iraq “pales into insignificance when compared to the Palestinian sacrifices.” Britain’s Sun dismissed Saddam’s move as “a calculated and scheming attempt to destablise Western economies” that proved the need for a regime change in Iraq: “He is an evil despot with no regard for anyone but himself and his own deranged ambitions. The West cannot be secure so long as he struts the streets of Baghdad.”