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Iraq: Opposition Urges U.S. To Help More

The leadership of the Iraqi opposition has spent the past three days in Washington pressing its case before senior U.S. administration and Congressional officials. RFE/RL's Lisa McAdams has been following the visit, and reports on the opposition's final day of testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Washington, 29 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The visiting leadership of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) is appealing for more U.S. help toward its bid to overthrow President Saddam Hussein, whom the INC says is growing stronger rather than weaker by the day.

The Iraqi opposition has already been promised $97 million in U.S. aid back in 1998, under terms of legislation known as the Iraq Liberation Act (ILA).

Testifying Wednesday in Washington before a U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Iraq, INC Presidency Council member Ahmad Chalabi told lawmakers that if the U.S. was committed to Saddam Hussein's overthrow and the establishment of an Iraqi democratic government, it could happen quickly. But Chalabi said until now, all the INC had received from U.S. officials was, "bold words and professed commitment."

Despite what he called this "bitter" record, Chalabi said the INC still looks to the United States for leadership, confident he said that the American people are with the opposition.

Chalabi said the Iraqi opposition will leave Washington tomorrow "encouraged" by the progress it feels was made in the past three days.

He cited Monday's meeting at the State Department with U.S. Vice President Al Gore as "very successful" and welcomed Gore's assertion that peace in the Middle East is impossible as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power.

Similarly, Chalabi said the INC welcomes the U.S. commitment to provide military training for the INC and help its humanitarian relief projects inside Iraq. But he said the opposition does not understand the U.S. Administration's resistance to provide lethal assistance. "You can't liberate Iraq by treating wounded people," Chalabi said.

Chalabi also had harsh words for the current international sanctions regime imposed on Iraq after the Persian Gulf War and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Chalabi said, "Sanctions, bombing and containment are not a sustainable policy. Either Saddam must go, and go quickly, or he must be accomodated."

And according to Chalabi, if Hussein is accomodated, he will quickly develop nuclear weapons and become the dominant military power in the Gulf.

In agreement with Chalabi is the Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, Richard Perle. Perle, who now serves as a foreign policy advisor to U.S. Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush, testified that simply removing the sanctions against Iraq will not solve the humanitarian problem: "Saddam has it within his power to permit the flow of food and medicine to needy Iraqis and it is a comment on his continuing brutality against his own people that he has chosen not to do that. Having said that, I think we have to recognize that eventually sanctions will be lifted because there will be not be sufficient political support for them. And when that happens, Saddam will claim a major political victory and that will be dangerous for the people of the region and the world."

Perle also characterized current U.S. policy toward Iraq, and the INC in particular, as "adrift, deteriorated and ineffective." As Pearle put it, "if anyone is in a box, it is not Saddam Hussein, but the American Administration."

A Senior U.S. official, speaking earlier this week on background, said the United States has spent the last 18 months reuniting and reorganizing the INC and making it eligible for direct U.S. aid. This year, the official said, the U.S. aims to help the Iraqi opposition "institutionalize," with leaders, staff and office space.

But Chalabi says what the the Iraqi opposition really needs -- and quickly -- is an action plan with a military component to get rid of Saddam Hussein.