Prague, 30 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Britain's Junior Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett says that Iraqi opposition groups will work to indict Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for war crimes as one means of uniting Iraqi public opinion against his leadership.
Fatchett told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in an interview this week that the opposition groups expressed strong support for an indictment campaign against Saddam in a meeting he held with opposition leaders in London early this week.
The Monday (Nov. 23) meeting brought together 16 of the largest Iraqi opposition groups as part of a drive by Washington and London to help them coalesce into a credible alternative to the government of Saddam Hussein.
Fatchett told our correspondent that the opposition leaders voiced broad support for collecting evidence against Hussein to present to a specially constituted United Nations court which could be set up by the Security Council along the lines of those trying Bosnian and Rwandan war crimes.
"One of the ideas that gained great support and currency in the meeting was the indict campaign. I think all of the opposition groups felt that it would be appropriate to campaign around the possibility of Saddam Hussein and the immediate leadership in Iraq being subject to trial by international tribunal on human-rights issues and, particularly, crimes against humanity. So I think there was a very strong view there, very strong pressure, that this will be a campaign that could be extremely successful."
The campaign would seek to indict Saddam for such violations as the use of chemical weapons against his own citizens in trying to suppress past Iraq-Kurdish revolts in northern Iraq. Western governments and international human-rights groups also have repeatedly accused Iraq's ruling Baath Party of the arbitrary arrest and execution of thousands of dissidents since it took power in a coup in 1968.
Fatchett called the campaign an example of how Britain and the United States can back Iraqi opposition groups and mobilize world opinion against Saddam in ways he termed "consistent with the United Nations and the British government's own legal constraints"
"We are not talking here about the opposition groups being involved in activities that are designed to overthrow violently the regime in Baghdad. We are talking about the opposition groups developing political support for a new Iraq, a new open, democratic Iraq...We can only support those activities that are consistent with the United Nations and our own legal responsibilities, but within that framework there is a great deal of political work that can be done, getting over the message of what has happened, reminding the world time and time again (of) the violations and the atrocities committed by the government in Baghdad and also opening up the prospect that Baghdad and Iraq can be different."
The senior British diplomat said he asked the Iraqi opposition leaders to come forward with other specific ideas on actions and programs that London might be able to support and work on. He said he and other British officials would hold follow-up meetings with the leaders at an unspecified date to view their proposals.
One day after meeting with Fatchett, the leaders of most of the 16 opposition groups met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk in London. Both the U.S. and Britain vowed last week to work more closely with the exiled and often deeply divided opposition groups to weaken Saddam's dictatorial rule and create democratic alternatives to it.
The U.S. Congress has recently passed a law allowing President Bill Clinton to spend 93 million dollars helping anti-Saddam groups. Under the terms of the law, the U.S. Administration has until the end of January to designate which opposition groups qualify for financial support.
Fatchett told RFE/RL that his government favors no particular group among the Iraqi opposition, which ranges across the political spectrum from constitutional monarchists, to Shiite religious-based groups, to the two Iraqi-Kurdish factions which now control most of northern Iraq.
"We are not favoring a particular group, nor a particular leader, nor are we trying to impose any organization. All of this must come from within the groups and the parties themselves...I said to the group that we need to be practical, that we need to come up with ideas that are sensible that people can agree on and work together on, and the group is now working on that and will come back to me and I assume that they will do the same in relation with the United States."