WASHINGTON (AP) _ Calling it appalling, the State Department criticized on Monday an Iraqi decision to cut food rations for its people on grounds that food received under its oil deal with the United Nations has been insufficient.

Spokesman James Foley said Iraq ordered the cuts even though it had acted to defer U.N. approval of $120 million worth of contracts for food purchases.

It is ``really appalling and indeed tragic'' that Iraq can claim to be concerned about the humanitarian plight of its people while consistently thwarting the efforts of the international community to ease their suffering, Foley said. It was not clear why the Iraqis decided to withhold approval of the food contracts, he added.

The U.N. Security Council is allowing the Iraqis to sell $2 billion worth of oil every six months. The proceeds are to be used solely for humanitarian purchases.

Foley said the United States is ``doing everything possible to alleviate suffering in Iraq while Saddam Hussein continues to increase and then use this suffering for political purposes.''

Iraq had said on Sunday that obstructionist tactics by the United States at the U.N. prompted the decision to reduce food rations. Items affected by the cuts include baby milk, cooking oil, tea and detergents.