Iran could block Strait of Hormuz if US deploys troops: Iraq oil minister

Rudaw – US troop deployments to the Middle East could provoke Iran to blockade the strategic Strait of Hormuz, causing chaos for global oil markets, Iraq’s oil minister warned Saturday.

US President Donald Trump announced on Friday he had approved the deployment of another 1,500 troops and a dozen more fighter jets as a “protective” measure.

Speaking to Iraq’s Al-Sumaria news agency, Iraqi oil minister Thamer Ghadhban said the closure of the Strait would have a “big impact on Iraq and other countries that export oil using Hormuz to the world market”.

He reassured viewers there are “precautionary measures” in place to make sure Iraq does not suffer fuel shortages in the event of the Strait being blocked.

Iraq has “strategic reserves of very large amounts of gas and oil,” Ghadhban said.

“We have an emergency plan to compensate for any possible shortage in [crude] quantities.”

“The first step we have taken is that we have increased the production of gas compared to last year in order to increase the storage of gas and oil being used in gas stations.”

“But we are optimistic that wisdom will prevail and that this [closure] will not happen because it is a great harm to the region and the world as a whole,” he added.

An estimated 18 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz to the Asian markets every day.

To stabilize global supply and support prices, Iraq produces less than five million bpd as part of its adherence to an agreement between OPEC and other large exporters including Russia.

Iran has long used threats to close the strategic waterway to pressure its western opponents.

Tensions have come to a head in the Persian Gulf after months of growing US pressure on Iran over its nuclear program and involvement in regional conflicts.

A US defense official on Friday blamed Iran for the recent attack on four oil vessels off the coast of the UAE port of Fujairah near the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has denied any involvement in the attack.

The US ended sanction waivers last month which had allowed eight major customers to continue importing Iranian oil.

Responding to unsubstantiated threats posed by Iran and its proxies in Iraq, the US announced the withdrawal of all non-essential staff from its Iraqi missions and deployed an aircraft carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Gulf.

“The increase of American presence in our region is very dangerous and it is a threat to international peace and security,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Saturday, according to state media.

“This should be countered.”

On Saturday, General Morteza Qurbani, a top advisor to the head of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said Iran could sink US ships if further provoked.

Iran is capable of “sending them to the bottom of the sea with all the crew and the planes” using “two missiles or two new weapons that are fully secret,” Qurbani told an official news outlet.

In April, Major General Mohammad Baqari, head of the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, threatened Tehran could block oil exports via the Strait of Hormuz if Iranian oil is obstructed.