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Iraq fires official over gas rationing

The Iraqi government announced Sunday that it has scrapped the controversial gasoline-rationing program installed just five days earlier and dismissed the oil minister who devised the plan. The surprising development came as a Moscow trouble-shooter, pursuing a scent of Iraqi flexibilityon resolving the Persian Gulf crisis, met twice with President Saddam Hussein.

Gasoline rationing was a double blow to Hussein. It led foreign analysts to conclude that the U.N. embargo was damaging the economy and threatening the war machine, and it raised discontent on the streets, where Baghdad's tens of thousands of motorists queued for rationed supplies.

Iraq said in explaining the move that the minister who was fired, Issam Abdul-Rahim Chalabi, had miscalculated the supply of chemical additives needed to make gasoline and engine oil. Baghdad Radio said Sunday that stocks were sufficient.

Chalabi was fired. Hussein named his son-in-law, Hussein Kamel Majid, to take over the important portfolio.

On the diplomatic front, Soviet envoy Yevgeny Primakov delivered a message from President Mikhail Gorbachev during a 40-minute meeting with Hussein in Baghdad, the Iraqi News Agency reported. Soviet officials said later that they had arranged a second session Sunday evening.

But Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze said Sunday night there was little reason for optimism following Primakov's talks with Hussein.

Primakov's visit to Baghdad coincided with the beginning of Gorbachev's two-day Paris summit with French President Francois Mitterrand. Gorbachev and Mitterrand met Sunday night to discuss ideas for ending the crisis.

In the Persian Gulf, U.S. Marines boarded an Iraqi vessel that had been halted with warning shots.

The ship, intercepted in the North Arabian Sea, was allowed to proceed after a search party found no goods banned under the U.N. sanctions.