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================================================================== From: "Erik K. Gustafson" <email@example.com> Interesting but not terribly accurate article on Iraq's opposition. This is a good article to respond to in drawing a link between sanctions and the closing & growing oppression of Iraqi society. A suggested focus of a letter can be how the Iraqi government has denied the political and civil rights of many of its citizens while the United Nations sanctions deny the social and economic rights of the people. To send Letters to the Editor of the New York Times, write to firstname.lastname@example.org New York Times Letters Policy: Letters to the Times should only be sent to the Times, and not to other publications. When writing be certain to include your name, address and a daytime phone number. We do not set a limit to the length of letters, but we advise the shorter the better (150 to 200 words). Writers of those letters selected for publication will be notified within a week to ten days. Letters may be shortened for space requirements. ----------------------- EVEN U.S. SEES IRAQ OPPOSITION AS FAINT HOPE New York Times - - - November 19, 1998 By JAMES RISEN and BARBARA CROSSETTE WASHINGTON -- Even as President Clinton has called for more support for Iraqi dissident groups, Administration officials acknowledged Wednesday that the groups are so weak and divided that it is uncertain how they could ever topple Saddam Hussein. President Clinton caught the dissident groups and even some American officials off guard last weekend when he said the best way to avoid another crisis with Iraq was a change in Bagdhad's government. After aborting a planned air strike, he said the Administration would do more to support "forces of change in Iraq." Clinton also embraced a new law that many in the Pentagon and his Administration had criticized as a waste of money. It calls for Washington to provide $97 million worth of military equipment and other resources to the dissidents. Administration officials acknowledge that the President's address suddenly revived a policy that many critics believe had been on the back burner. Indeed, the President's announcement came weeks after the top U.S. military commander in the gulf, General Anthony Zinni, dismissed the new law, saying "I don't think these things have been thought out." Now, the White House and State Department are moving quickly to try to fill in the blanks. And some of the Iraqi groups themselves have misgivings about new American backing. Leaders of some of the smaller groups say the United States may do little but revive discredited projects that lack popular support inside Iraq. Soon after the President's address, Martin Indyk, an Assistant Secretary of State, met with Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, which has been out of favor with the Administration since its operations in northern Iraq were decimated by the Iraqi army two years ago. Chalabi lobbied Congress to pass the $97 million funding plan, and now hopes to push the Administration to designate his group as a prime beneficiary. The Administration's support "represents a policy reversal," said Chalabi. "They have opened their arms." The Administration also is accelerating efforts to help unite feuding Kurdish and other groups into a cohesive opposition. These include an influential Iranian-backed Islamic Shiite group. That group, the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, met privately with Clinton Administration officials in Washington three months ago, according to other dissident leaders. It is the largest among Iraqi Shiites in southern Iraq and may now be willing to take part in a U.S.-sponsored military action against Hussein, if Teheran approves. Meanwhile, more than a dozen opposition groups in London were asked to meet with a British government official the day after Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain supported the efforts to undermine Saddam Hussein's regime. But altogether, the number of dissident groups and their competing interests have hampered Washington and London in their search for a way to topple Hussein. Clinton Administration officials acknowledged Wednesday that they are not yet ready to decide which groups would receive American support, and whether any would receive arms. Under the terms of law, called the Iraq Liberation Act, the President has until the end of January to announce which groups will receive American support. "We are intensifying our engagement with the opposition groups by strengthening our economic and political support for them," said the State Department spokesman, James P. Rubin. "With respect to arming them, we haven't ruled that out, but we think it is premature to do that." Another senior State Department official was equally cautious. "We have to be realistic about how we go forward," he said. "Working with the opposition to help them unify to create an alternative is a critical first step." Republicans in Congress say they aren't convinced that the White House is serious. "They have taken a step towards support for the Iraq Liberation Act, but I don't see that they have really made a committment to overthrow Saddam," said a senior Republican Senate aide. "And that's the purpose of the act." Some Iraqi dissident groups, which divide across ethnic and sectarian lines, worry about American and British intentions, saying that any plan that provides support for the Iraqi National Congress will have little support inside the country. "From the beginning, I realized that this is not for changing the regime in Iraq," said Sami Faraq, who writes a weekly column for a London-based weekly newspaper, Free Iraq. "This just to give cover to other activities, like influencing the situation in the north of Iraq, to make the Kurdish movement look like part of the opposition to Saddam Hussein, when in reality they are completely independent." Saad Jabr, the publisher of Free Iraq and the son of a former Prime minister of Iraq when it had a British-installed monarchy, recommended an indictment of Hussein for crimes against humanity and total diplomatic isolation for his regime, among other measures. He also recommended spending "big money" on an effective satellite system for broadcasting to Iraq. A number of exiles mentioned that the Radio Free Iraq broadcasts that the United States has now begun are too little, too late. "We don't think America is serious, unfortunately, about removing Saddam Hussein," Jabr said in an interview. And if the Clinton Administration wants to count on any serious support within the country, the Iraqi middle class living mostly in Baghdad or other towns in the country's Arabic, Sunni Muslim heartland, needed a psychological boost. In Minnesota, Abbas Mehdi, a university professor who is chairman of the Union of Independent Iraqis, a group linking about 30 small groups, said the United States has embraced sanctions that cut into the living standards of the Iraqi middle class whose support it would need if Washington were to open up Iraqi politics. "Sanctions are destroying the people and the country," he said. "They have weakened the people who now have to depend on Saddam Hussein more than ever. It pains me to see how people talk about the U.S. in the Middle East, not only in Iraq. People are angry." Despite the new American interest, many American officials have grown wary of investing too much time or resources into groups that often seem more intent on fighting each other than toppling Hussein. Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, Hussein has exploited their differences and managed to subvert them, rather than the other way around. American options have been so limited that the Central Intelligence Agency has been secretly funding one group that agency officials know has been betrayed by Iraqi agents, U.S. officials said. The Iraqi National Accord, a group made up of former military officers and other defectors from the Bagdhad regime, is still receiving C.I.A. backing more than two years after Iraq revealed that it knew all about the I.N.A.'s covert efforts to subvert Hussein's rule. In June, 1996, Iraq rounded up and executed about 100 army officers and others suspected of involvement with the group, making it clear that he had agents inside the group. Wednesday, United States officials say they strongly suspect that the I.N.A., with offices in Amman, Jordan and London, is still riddled with double agents. ______________________________________________________________ Erik K. Gustafson, Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) 747 10th Street SE, Suite 2, Washington, DC 20003 202-543-6176; 202-546-5103 (fax); EPICenter@igc.org ____________________________________________________________________________ -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email email@example.com, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html