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NYT - "Iraq Opposition Faint Hope" (fwd)

From: "Erik K. Gustafson" <>

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. 

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New York Times - - - November 19, 1998

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

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

"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);

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