Juan Cole is a regular contributor to Truthdig.com, where this article was originally published.
Iran threatened last week to use the oil weapon if the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions on the country because of its nuclear research program, promising "harm and pain" to the United States. In addition to consumer anxieties about oil prices, rumors of a planned U.S. or Israeli airstrike on Iran keep flying, and neighboring Iraqi Shiites have threatened reprisals if that is done to their brethren. What is driving the crisis between the Bush administration and Iran and ratcheting up the rhetoric?
Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi said on Friday, "If sanctions are imposed, we will definitely use the oil tool and other tools and we will stop at nothing." The regime is clearly fearful of an international economic boycott, but feels it has its own advantages in the struggle. With increasing demand from India and China and instability in Nigeria and Iraq, Iran's crude oil exports are important in maintaining an affordable price, especially in the winters. In some ways, by invading Iraq and destabilizing it, as well as fostering the rise of Shiite religious parties in Baghdad, the Bush administration has inadvertently strengthened Shiite Iran's hand.
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