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Iraq: Opposition Takes Steps Toward Unity

The long-fractious Iraqi opposition will take a step toward unity today (Friday), opening a four-day United Opposition Assembly in New York. In the days leading up to the event, the Opposition worked hard to present a united front against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. As RFE/RL's Lisa McAdams reports, they are not alone in their efforts.

Washington, 29 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- An Iraqi opposition member addressing a news conference in Washington Thursday perhaps put it best when he said the Iraqi opposition was united in its goal, but needed to coordinate its efforts. That is the key charge of the upcoming united Iraqi opposition Assembly in New York, which gets under way today (Friday) and will run through Monday (Nov. 1).

An estimated 350 people will attend the event, organized by the Iraqi National Congress (INC). INC spokesman Dr. Salah al-Sheikhly on Thursday described the upcoming Assembly as the last step in a long process toward the demise of the present regime in Iraq and its replacement with a democratic government.

Sheikhly said the opposition had come through, in his words," a hard and very compromised process." But he said it was his view the Iraqi opposition was now up to the task.

"We hope we will come out (of New York) with a structure and we hope we are going to avoid the pitfalls and mistakes we have made in initial meetings and initial assemblies of the Iraqi National Congress between 1992 and 1999. Our message to the Iraqi's inside (the country) is that we are now united, we have a strategy, we have a plan, we have a vision for Iraq and we are going to proceed."

Sheikhly said the Iraqi's should take heart that there was once, and will be again, a life beyond Saddam Hussein's regime.

The other speaker to address the gathering at the Washington Institute was Sharif Ali bin-Hussein, leader of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement. He urged conference attendees not to confuse diversity with disunity. He also sought to sound the call that time is of the essence.

"Inside Iraq, there is a latent insurrection going on every day now. (There are) confrontations with the security apparatus of the regime. Twice this year, cities have fallen under the control of the regime for a couple of days, only to be suppressed by the military forces, and this situation is continuing. So, we have to move quickly on this in order to be able to support what is happening inside Iraq."

He said assistance supporting a regime change should come from both within the country and from around the region, as well as points afar, like the United States. Sharif Ali bin-Hussein acknowledged that in this particular area the Iraqi opposition was still rather a "work in progress." But he said participants in New York would be working hard over the next few days to specifically define how best the world can help.

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, welcomed the opposition groups' progress in renewing the common cause. He also stressed during a background briefing that the U.S. was ready to play, what he called, a "support" role. The official said additional direct support in the form of money or even military arms could come at a later date, if and when the opposition proves it has the infrastructure and capability to properly handle such aid.

In a further sign the Opposition is n-o-t alone in its efforts, the United States' Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes unveiled evidence allegedly detailing some ten years worth of war crimes carried out by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his regime.

Ambassador David Scheffer unveiled some of the evidence handed over Wednesday to the Iraq Foundation (a human rights monitor), during a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. RFE/RL's correspondent quotes Scheffer as saying the documents detail in what he called the most minute way the day-to-day nature of the alleged crimes committed by Saddam Hussein's intelligence services against the Iraqi Kurds of northern Iraq. Other evidence to be shared highlights alleged abuses from Iraqi forces in Kuwait, in southern Iraq, and in Iran.

Scheffer vowed that the U.S. would continue to gather and organize further documentation, toward the Clinton Administration's stated goal of seeing Saddam Hussein and his regime indicted and prosecuted in an international court of law for crimes against humanity.

"The United States Government is determined to see this clique of Iraqi criminals stripped of their power and, if possible, brought to justice. They should benefit from no contracts, no trade and no initiatives that would bestow any legitimacy on their criminal enterprise in Baghdad. They should be isolated, cut off, and brought before the gates of justice."

Scheffer said the United States also is urging other governments to join in a multi-national legal assault on Hussein in the months ahead, until, as Scheffer put it,"Hussein meets his match in a court of law."