At first glance, Iraq's offer to accept United Nations Security Council resolutions and withdraw from Kuwait looked like a cause for celebration. It seemed Saddam Hussein had decided to declare victory and go home. But closer examination of the offer showed that little had changed. President Bush was correct in calling it a "cruel hoax" and a disappointment.

In the first place, a variety of U.N. resolutions have all demanded that Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait be immediate and unconditional. The Iraq offer had all kinds of conditions attached, including the old one trying to link Israel to the issue. All had been previously rejected.One analyst has called the document a veritable "minefield of conditions, traps and hidden meanings."

The only new material in the message is an acknowledgment of the need to get out of Kuwait. That element has been missing from previous announcements that have only referred to "problems" in the Middle East. This acknowledgment is what caused the temporary celebrating.

Yet, that small glimmer aside, it is clear that the withdrawal offer is merely an attempt to gain political advantage, particularly in the minds of Arabs, at a time when the air bombardment may be on the verge of destroying the Iraqi army's ability to wage an effective ground war.

If the allied coalition were to accept the conditions laid down by Iraq, it would turn Iraqi military defeat into a diplomatic triumph and would leave Saddam not only still in power, but as one of the dominant figures of the region.

Conditions in the withdrawal offer include Saddam's insistence that:

- There be an immediate cease-fire and that the U.N. cancel all its resolutions against Iraq, including the boycott and embargo measures.

- The withdrawal by Iraq from Kuwait must be accompanied by withdrawal from the region of all U.S. and other forces, to be completed within one month. This includes weapons and equipment supplied to Israel and would affect defensive Patriot missiles used against Iraq's Scud missiles.

- Iraq's withdrawal must be linked to Israel's pullout from all occupied territories, including the strategic Golan Heights. If Israel doesn't comply, U.N. sanctions like those against Iraq would be applied.

- The government of Kuwait should be removed and replaced by an authentic democracy.

- All countries that participated in the military campaign against Iraq or supported it financially should rebuild all destroyed facilities - with no financial liabilities to Iraq.

- All debts owed by Iraq to the allied coalition should be forgiven, as well as debts owed by non-participants in the war who suffered losses (such as Jordan). And poor Arab states should share in the wealth of the rich ones.

These conditions and others sound like terms being dictated by the victor to the vanquished. They cannot possibly be taken seriously.

The only acceptable answer to ending the fighting is still Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. Until that happens, the war must go on in spite of Saddam's twisting and squirming.