Iraqi gas rationing called ruse to postpone attack

October 28, 1990|By Youssef M. Ibrahim | Youssef M. Ibrahim,New York Times News Service

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Iraq's recent announcement that it would ration gasoline was a maneuver to persuade Baghdad's enemies to postpone any attack on Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait, several Kuwaiti oil industry executives and European military affairs experts say.

The rationing announcement, the experts said, was intended to give the impression that the United Nations economic sanctions against Iraq were working well enough to make an attack by the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf seem unnecessary.

Those experts said Iraq had no real shortage of gasoline or of the chemicals needed to produce it, as large quantities of those chemicals were already in Iraq and even larger quantities were taken from Kuwait after the invasion Aug. 2.

In interviews last week, the experts said that Iraq had a year's supply of tetraethyl lead, an important gasoline additive, and added that they doubted the embargo would last that long.

By reinforcing the notion among many Western and Arab nations that the embargo on Iraq is working and should be allowed a full chance to break the Iraqi will, Baghdad may be hoping to gain time to drive wedges into the international alliance that has deployed an estimated 300,000 troops in Saudi Arabia.

It is clear that Iraq has every interest in postponing as long as possible a war that everyone agrees will be costly to both sides, but probably devastating to Iraq.

The Kuwaiti officials, who are senior executives of Kuwait Petroleum Corp. living in exile, said they believed that Iraq's other motive behind the gasoline rationing was to prepare the Iraqi population for real shortages in other areas, which include spare parts for industry and domestic appliances.

Military affairs experts say the Iraqi army is not a major user of gasoline, since all of Iraq's tanks and other armored vehicles, and most military trucks, use diesel fuel.

Iraq, with vast oil reserves and significant refining capability, can produce diesel fuel with ease regardless of the embargo. Its air force runs on jet fuel, which can be produced in Iraq and at Kuwaiti refineries.

Other Arab officials said that while Iraq is indeed beginning to experience serious shortages in spare parts and raw material needed for industry, it has not spoken of them and taken no public measures to signal what in the long run could be a far more serious problem than the possibility of a real gasoline shortage.

"I don't see why they should go around and pick the easiest problem they have and make a public deal out of it," said a senior executive of the Kuwait petroleum company.

A senior Saudi intelligence official, who insisted on not being identified, said that while the embargo is expected to begin to hurt the Iraqi population in two to three months, Saudi intelligence suggests it "will take much longer" before it can affect army operations or supplies.

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