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Crude price flares up to $ 33.2 a barrel

London, Dec. 30 (Reuters): Oil prices charged higher again on Monday as traders bet on a US attack against Iraq early next year and as supplies from Opec nation Venezuela stayed choked off by a strike now in its fifth week.

US light crude futures in electronic trade set a new two-year high of $ 33.17 a barrel and by 1200 GMT were up 37 cents from Friday at $ 33.09. London Brent crude added 51 cents to $ 30.67 a barrel, a 15-month high.

“Oil and politics are a volatile combination and we have two separate issues confronting the oil market at the moment,” said Peter Gignoux, head of the London energy desk at Schroder Salomon Smith Barney.

Oil has risen more than $ 5 in December and prices are now more than $ 10 higher than at the start of 2002. Concerns are growing that costly energy bills could stifle global economic recovery.

Washington at the weekend ordered more US troops, aircraft and ships to head to the Gulf from January in preparation for a possible war against Baghdad.

US secretary of state Colin Powell said Washington had not yet decided whether to attack Iraq to force it to disarm weapons of mass destruction, but was taking “prudent action” in readiness.

Dealers think an attack could start soon after January 27 when the chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix delivers a report to the Security Council on the progress of his inspection teams.

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