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Iraq demands probe of U.N. team

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Iraq has accused U.N. arms inspectors of working with foreign intelligence agencies hostile to the country and has demanded a special investigation into the U.N. commission overseeing the inspections, Iraqi newspapers reported Friday.

The government made the accusation in a letter from Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the state-controlled Al-Thawra and Al-Iraq newspapers said.The action follows reports in Israeli and American newspapers that quoted former Amercian arms inspector Scott Ritter as saying he dealt with Israeli intelligence and the CIA in seeking information on Iraq's weapons program.

Aziz urged an official investigation on the U.N. Special Commission's "connections and intelligence work that is hostile to Iraq," the newspapers quoted the letter as saying.

The letter added that such a step was necessary to "guarantee the United Nations' credibility, neutrality, and reputation," the newspapers said.

The Iraqi government has long maintained that some of the arms inspectors were spies - Ritter in particular - and that the U.N. Special Commission, known as UNSCOM, was not a neutral agency but worked under the United States.

"The main source of information UNSCOM uses to peddle its false claims, to carry out exposed espionage on Iraq and to fabricate crises, are U.S. and Israeli sources," the newspapers quoted the letter as saying.

Economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait can't be lifted until Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction, and arms inspectors are responsible for certifying that Iraq has complied with the U.N. resolutions.

Iraq has long maintained that it has fulfilled its obligation, but the arms inspectors say the government of President Saddam Hussein continues to hide weapons and the means to make more.