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Iraqi Deputy Premier Criticizes Rumsfeld

Iraq's deputy prime minister condemned remarks by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and said Wednesday his nation would comply with commitments it made this week in allowing U.N. weapons inspectors to return.

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Rumsfeld's comments to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee prove Washington isn't concerned about weapons of mass destruction and is merely looking for a pretext for "a criminal attack on Iraq."

Rumsfeld told the congressional committee earlier Wednesday that "no terrorist state poses a greater and more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq."

"We expect attempts at provocation here and there [during upcoming inspections] or statements such as that of Rumsfeld, but I believe that the public opinion stands with us," Aziz said in brief remarks to reporters Wednesday night at the end of an international solidarity conference in Baghdad.

"We hope the world would not abide by the American threats," he added.

Aziz also said Iraq will comply with the commitments it made in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan dated Monday in which Iraq reversed its long-standing position and said it would unconditionally accept the return of international weapons inspectors. Washington has dismissed the pledge.

"The most important thing is that Iraq will comply with commitments included in its letter," Aziz said.

U.N. inspectors left Iraq nearly four years ago ahead of U.S.-British strikes on Baghdad to punish Iraq for noncooperation with the U.N. inspection regime.

President Bush said Wednesday that Iraq would not "fool anybody" with its about-face and predicted the United Nations would rally behind the United States. His administration disclosed plans for moving B-2 bombers closer to Baghdad, preparing for a possible war to remove Saddam.

At the United Nations, meanwhile, key players moved ahead with plans for the inspectors' return.

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.