Iran?s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on Islamic oil-producing countries to suspend their exports to ?pro-Israel? countries. ?The oil belongs to the people and can be a weapon against the West and those countries who support the savage regime of Israel,? he says. Khamenei says exports should be stopped ?for a symbolic period of one month.? Iran is the second largest exporter of oil from the Middle East and a member of the Opec producers? cartel whose members produce 40% of the world?s crude supply. An anonymous Opec source says an export suspension would only benefit non-Opec countries such as Russia, who would raise their production to fill the gap.

Iraq previously called for an embargo, but Saudi Arabia and Kuwait both rejected the idea. Opec insists it will not use oil as an economic weapon. While Iran is an important member of the cartel, it doesn?t have as much influence as Saudi Arabia.

Khamanei says the success of such a scheme would depend on the co-operation of all oil-producing countries in the Middle East. ?If they [the Western countries] do not receive oil their factories will come to a halt. This will shake the world,? he says. A 1973 embargo by Opec members caused a severe oil shock and widespread economic chaos around the world.

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Iraq?s President Saddam Hussein has announced an immediate month-long suspension of Iraqi oil exports in protest of U.S. support for Israel. The decision involves nearly two million barrels a day or 4% of international oil supplies.

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a period of 30 days when we will further decide policy, or until the Zionist entity?s armed forces have unconditionally withdrawn from the Palestinian territories.?

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.?

There was no immediate response to the Iraqi move on oil supplies from Iran and Libya. Both have said they would join in an oil embargo only if the ban was supported from all Arab oil producers. Such a move is unlikely because big producers Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have already rejected a repeat of the 1973 Arab oil embargo that triggered a severe economic recession in the West.

The U.S. is 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 imports.The Bush administration says it is not yet planning a military campaign against Iraq for hiding nuclear and biological weapons and encouraging terrorism, but says the use of force remains an option.

After a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Texas, Bush said, with regard to an invasion of Iraq, that ?all options were on the table.?

To learn what?s behind the headlines, read ?The Last Days of Israel? by Barry Chamish, click here.

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