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Iraq Accuses Kuwait Again

Iraq on Wednesday renewed accusations Kuwait was stealing its oil, charges reminiscent of the prelude to the Gulf War that had sent oil prices skyrocketing.

The ruling Baath party newspaper, Al-Thawra, said in a front-page editorial that Kuwaiti officials have "implicitly" acknowledged they are stealing Iraqi oil by drilling wells that may stretch horizontally to reach Iraqi reservoirs close to the border, "depleting (Iraqi) crude via this vicious method."

Al-Thawra's editorials reflect the Iraqi government's opinion on matters of national concern. Wednesday's comments signaled Iraq's determination not to let the issue, which has rattled international oil markets, subside.

Theft of Iraqi oil was one of the reasons Iraq gave for invading Kuwait in 1990. Iraq resurrected the complaint last week, along with a warning that it will take proper measures to stop its neighbor's actions.

Pushed in part by the possibility of conflict in the Gulf, oil prices soared to a new 10-year-high in New York on Monday before retreating.

Iraq's Oil Ministry officials claimed that Kuwait was stealing 300,000 barrels of oil per day through the practice of horizontal drilling. That much oil would be worth $3 billion over a year.

In addition to the oil theft charges, Al-Thawra editor-in-chief Sami Mehdi accused Kuwait of allowing the United States to conduct military exercises close to Iraqi borders and providing refuge and financial help to Baghdad opponents.

Kuwait has rejected the charges as lies designed to "escalate tension in the region."

An official Kuwaiti statement quoted Oil Minister Sheik Saud Nasser al-Sabah as saying his country would welcome independent experts to inspect its oil operations in the border area with Iraq "so that the falsity of the allegations by the Iraqi regime can be revealed."

Kuwait argues that it doesn't have the equipment to drill horizontally; that its northern oil fields are too far from Iraq to permit it; and that its drilling near the border takes place under the watch of United Nations troops maintaining a buffer zone between the two countries.

In New York, Kuwait's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Abulhasan sent letters to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Security Council categorically denying any oil theft and accusing Baghdad of "trying to provoke crises and create an atmosphere of tension and instability in the region."

The Kuwaiti envoy called on the Security Council to reject the Iraqi threats and ensure that Baghdad respects resolutions that prohibiting it from threatening its neighbors.

Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheik Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah was quoted as saying that Russian support was one reason for threatening behavior from Iraq, which has accused Kuwait of stealing oil.

Russia has come out in opposition to continued U.N. sanctions against Iraq and has sent two air shpments of aid to Baghdad, breaking a taboo on international air travel to Saddam Hussein's capital.

The Iraqi press charged Monday that Washington was preparing an attack on Iraq, the influential newspaper Babel saying "The American administration is planning a new aggression against Iraq, relying on its failing actors in the region, the rulers of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia."

Western officials believe Saddam might exploit the sensitive U.S. campaign season to dramatize Iraq's opposition to U.N. economic sanctions and try to embarrass President Bill Clinton.

They said the White House had discussed plans for a range of eventualities, including Iraqi military action against the Kurds, an attack on Western aircraft or on Kuwait, and the risk that Saddam might play with oil exports to send world prices through the roof before the Nov. 7 U.S. vote.

Auguring against any new fighting is a prediction by the head of the U.N.'s new arms inspectorate for Iraq that his inspectors will be allowed into Iraq after the U.S. election.

The Clinton administration urged the United Nations on Monday to establish a war crimes tribunal to try Saddam for war crimes like the gassing Kurds, using chemicals weapons against Iran and committing war crimes against American service members and Kuwaitis during the Gulf War.