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Iraq Crisis Threatens Global Economy

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The latest news from Iraq clearly has geopolitical implications. No less important are the economic ramifications. The Iraq war, which began with the U.S. invasion in 2003, is entering a new phase, and perhaps far more dangerous territory.

A Salafist-Islamist insurgent group which goes by the acronym in English of ISIS (and by other acronyms and names as well), said to be to the right of al-Qaeda (if that is even possible), has seized Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, with a population of approximately two million. ISIS has seized others towns and strategic locations, while boasting of a march on Baghdad. The Iraqi army appears to be crumbling.

Amid talk of the United States getting back into the Iraq war, or Iran intervening directly with its own military forces, the price of oil has begun to spike. Normally, any military conflict, especially in the Persian Gulf region, will elevate the per barrel price of oil. However, another factor is at play. Just as Iraq was approaching the pre-2003 level of petroleum extraction, the internecine conflict's escalation into outright civil war threatens to torpedo any meaningful exports of Iraq's crude oil in the future.

A disruption in the supply of Iraq's oil on the world market could create a cascading effect on oil prices, already at $110 per barrel and climbing. It should be remembered that in the summer of 2008 oil's climb to a price north of $140 per barrel was a key element in the unleashing of the global economic crisis, from which a feeble recovery is still underway. The global economy is fragile and vulnerable to another oil shock.

Among all the calculations being weighed in Washington, Tehran and elsewhere, policymakers must understand that the growing signs of disintegration of the unified Iraqi state, among other crises in the Middle East, may foreshadow a repetition of the oil price crisis of 2008. The unraveling of the American-installed Iraqi political structure may be a harbinger to a return to oil scarcity and elevated oil prices, with all the attendant negative effects on the global economy.