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UN: Opposition Urges Action To Lessen Saddam's Impact On Iraqis

A delegation of Iraqi opposition figures has met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to discuss strategies for containing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and eventually bringing an end to his rule. The opposition Iraqis are pressing for more diplomatic action to hold Saddam accountable for the suffering of Iraqi citizens. RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

New York, 15 September 2000 (RFE/RL)) -- Eight Iraqi opposition figures, from various religious and ethnic backgrounds, have begun a new campaign to urge the international community to hold Saddam Hussein accountable for the suffering of normal Iraqis.

The opposition delegation met in New York yesterday (Thursday) with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. It was the first in a month-long series of meetings planned with UN diplomats aimed at raising awareness about the situation in Iraq.

The group includes Hamid Al Bayati, representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Kurdistan Democratic Party representative Farhad Barzani, and General Nageb Al Salihi, a member of the Iraqi National Congress' Central Council.

A senior U.S. State Department official (who requested anonymity) said the group urged Albright to press for new steps to try to ease the suffering of Iraqis, who have faced 10 years of UN sanctions. The UN's oil-for-food humanitarian program has been generating billions of dollars in revenues this year, the delegation said, but Saddam has withheld relief money in an attempt to gain sympathy for lifting the sanctions.

A UN Security Council resolution calls for suspending sanctions only after Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad says it has done so and is refusing UN requests to resume weapons inspections.

The State Department official said the Iraqi delegation yesterday called for the establishment of a new independent body to control the oil-for-food revenues. The group also called for an international tribunal to be set up to prosecute Saddam and his regime for crimes against humanity.

The office of the U.S. special representative for transition in Iraq, Frank Ricciardone, has been looking into forming such a tribunal and is working with other interested groups such as INDICT, a foundation based in London. On September 18, U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues David Scheffer will discuss the latest efforts to create an Iraqi war crimes court in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

Albright's meeting yesterday was aimed at reinforcing the support of the U.S. government for a credible Iraqi opposition. But some opposition figures have criticized the slow pace of U.S. action since the passing of the Iraqi Liberation Act by Congress in 1998. The bill authorizes President Bill Clinton to provide up to $97 million to approved opposition groups for training and equipment, including military surplus.

But the State Department official stressed that no military aid is currently envisioned. Instead, the Defense Department is contributing to projects such as training for about 200 Iraqi expatriates in subjects ranging from medicine to investigation of war crimes.

The purpose, he says, is to prepare Iraqis outside the country for the day when democracy and a rule of law are able to return to Iraq. The emphasis in the short term is an information campaign aimed at gathering evidence of war crimes and sending news to Iraqis via broadcasts or webcasts.

The State Department official said the United States does not necessarily envision the Iraqi National Congress-- the umbrella group of opposition parties -- as running the next government of Iraq. But he says the U.S. government wants to help these groups to help play a role in transforming Iraq into a democracy. The U.S. official dismissed suggestions that the opposition delegation in New York was not in touch with events in Iraq, saying "these are high-caliber, serious people."

Other members of the delegation who met with Albright included Mahdi Al-Bassam, a member of the INC Central Council; Oguz Gurgur, representative of the Iraqi Turkoman National Front; Barham Salih, representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; and Nizar Haidar, representative of the Islamic Action Organization.