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Iraqi Official Says U.S. After Oil

In Iraq's first public comments since agreeing to allow the unconditional return of U.N. weapons inspectors, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz questioned whether that retreat would end the crisis.

``The issue does not end with Iraq's acceptance of the return of the inspectors,'' Aziz said at the opening of a ``solidarity conference'' in Baghdad attended by lawmakers and other delegates from around the world.

``The aim of the American policies is the oil in the Gulf,'' Aziz added in his brief remarks.

Iraqi officials, citing comments from top members of President Bush's administration, had speculated in the past that the United States would attack even if U.N. inspectors were allowed to return to determine whether Iraq was stockpiling nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

Vice President Dick Cheney said in August: ``A debate with him (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) over inspectors ... would be an effort by him to obfuscate and delay and avoid having to live up to the accords that he signed at the end of the Gulf War.''

The United States accuses Iraq of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and sponsoring terrorism and has said Saddam should be toppled.

In a letter addressed Monday to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Iraq agreed to allow the unconditional return of U.N. inspectors, ``to remove any doubts that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction.''

The White House dismissed the offer as a tactical move and continued to press for a new U.N. Security Council resolution that could open the way to military action against Iraq.

``They were shocked with this courageous and balanced decision (to accept the return of inspectors) and then they turned to talk about tactics and maneuvers,'' Aziz said Tuesday. ``Washington's pretext for launching war against Iraq has been foiled with Iraq's acceptance of the U.N. inspectors.''

Under Security Council resolutions, sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait cannot be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that its weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed. Inspectors left the country in December, 1998 ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes to punish Iraq for not cooperating with inspections.

Since then, Iraq had said until Monday it would only allow inspectors to return if the sanctions were lifted.

On the streets of Baghdad, there were echoes Tuesday of Aziz's questions about whether Iraq's decision to allow in weapons inspectors would defuse the crisis.

``They will strike us, they already said they question our acceptance,'' said 48-year-old bookseller Ahmed Noori, adding ``They are after the region's oil, not weapons.''

Noori was standing next to his book shop in al-Mutanabi Street listening to a short wave radio. Iraqi newspapers, radio and television are all controlled by the regime and none carried word of the decision on inspectors. Iraqis relied on foreign radio reports for the news.

Sadiq Chelab, 50, a car painter, said his country had done the right thing.

``Now the world has to watch for their reaction to see they are not after the implementation of U.N. resolutions but forcing us to accept a regime we do not want,'' Chelab said.